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When did OTL leaders become 'plausible'?

Kato

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A series of DBWI questions that I've had bouncing around in my head for a while, but prompted by @Comisario and @AlfieJ 's excellent Shuffle timeline.

When did the people who in OTL became Prime Minister first become plausible or even likely 'next PM' figures?

In political betting there is a longstanding market for 'next PM'. Usually the persons named are those who would be expected - e.g. current senior cabinet ministers, leaders of the opposition - though often there are also various long-shots and some less plausible David Miliband shaped odds.

Historically some UK Prime Ministers (e.g. Eden, Brown) were almost inevitable heirs-apparent for a long time. A time traveler to respectively 1945 or 1997 could drop their names without eliciting too much of a surprised response. Other PMs (Johnson, Callaghan) might be less inevitable, but would get a similar 'yeah, makes sense' response in either 2009 or 1966.

By contrast John Major probably gets a 'who?' as late as 1989 - and may well have done even as he traveled to meet Brenda. Given his rapid ascent to date, Rishi Sunak might be the future AH equivalent of this - depending on what PODs get uncovered for 2020.

Incumbent Leaders of the Opposition are by the nature of their job somewhat priced in as plausible next PMs - assuming the Government of the day is on the way out. Thatcher, Blair, Cameron all got to be odds-on favourite for next PM at some point in their tenure, and most LotO get to be at least plausible future PMs at some point in their tenure, even if this plausibility falls away with hindsight. Others like Wilson, Heath or Attlee looked less likely to make the jump from opposition to government before it actually happened.

But what about the dark horses, or those in between? What about the plausible 'next PMs' left waiting at the church, or longer than might have seemed inevitable at some earlier point in OTL?

What historical figures were seriously seen as likely/inevitable next PM for a while, but never had this come to pass?

For OTL PMs - what are plausible latest 'point of no return' PODs that might avert their rise in a timeline as close to OTL as possible?

I have some thoughts to bounce around, but I wanted to open this up for discussion first.
 

RyanF

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To avoid an OTL rise of a Prime Minister, if Keith Joseph had not felt the need to include the phrase 'human stock' in an October 1974 speech he might have ascended to leadership of the Conservative Party, preventing Margaret Thatcher from being the standard bearer of the right of the Party in the vacuum left by his controversial comments.
 

Yokai Man

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Well,besides David Miliband and George Osborne (or at least that’s how it seemed to me),Roy Jenkins,Michael Heseltine, John Moore,Michael Portillo and John Smith were seen by some as future Prime Ministers til Events happened and they didn’t get where people thought they would get.

A favorite scenario of mine is one where John Major resigns due to the 1995 leadership contest and Heseltine steps in and tries to stop Portillo,finally becoming Prime Minister but not the way he wanted.
 

Kato

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To avoid an OTL rise of a Prime Minister, if Keith Joseph had not felt the need to include the phrase 'human stock' in an October 1974 speech he might have ascended to leadership of the Conservative Party, preventing Margaret Thatcher from being the standard bearer of the right of the Party in the vacuum left by his controversial comments.
This is the classic Thatcher POD isn't it - and as above being LotO is generally a good place to be to rise further. Has anyone ever really explored a Joseph leadership?

As tumultuous as OTL 1974-1979 was, I do find intriguing a lot of the contemporary speculation that was founded on the assumption that Thatcher wouldn't win the next election - and who might therefore succeed her.

I can't find the contemporary newspaper clipping I've found previously, which corroborates this, but the below is from Francis Pym's 2008 obituary.

"By 1977 commentators began to see Pym as possibly the next Tory leader because of his moderate reform proposal. When Thatcher named him shadow foreign secretary (1978-79) as well, his views seemed very Tory conformist. These included opposition to economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa."

The clipping I've read elaborates that Pym was especially popular with the parliamentary party at this time, and as such a favourite for any leadership contest that might arise.

For Thatcher, it seems reasonable to assume that winter 1978/9 is the 'point of inevitability'?
 
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Kato

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Well,besides David Miliband and George Osborne (or at least that’s how it seemed to me),Roy Jenkins,Michael Heseltine, John Moore,Michael Portillo and John Smith were seen by some as future Prime Ministers til Events happened and they didn’t get where people thought they would get.
Osborne is a really good shout actually -considering how politically and electorally 'all conquering' he was presented in that briefest of windows between May 2015 and June 2016, and also how for a longer time he was Cameron's obvious deputy and continuity successor.
 

Charles EP M.

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Yeah, Osborne seemed the inevitable successor - the No.2 of a dominant Prime Minister that seemed in control of his party (ho ho).

And Cameron himself wasn't 'plausible' until he did his no-notes speech at the party conference, winning people over.

Handily enough, Nick Clegg isn't plausible either for a good while either since you first need Ming Campbell to win and then resign not long after, with "ha ha he's old" being a recurring meme that discourages Vince Cable running; and you need Mark Oaten to resign after a scandal so Clegg can be the Home Affairs Spokesman for a year to boost him; and then he has to narrowly defeat Chris Huhne, the guy who almost won last time. And on top of that, Clegg has to resign as MEP a few months before Richard Allan decides to step down in the next election, so Clegg can have an MP seat at all! Nobody in 2004 is going to be picking him for their three-years-in-the-future timeline leader.

Away from the UK, and ignoring Trump because he's too obvious a "not plausible oh shit now he is" figure, there's Macron. To become president, he has to resign and form his own party months later, and then he has to make this entirely new party do well while the other parties are weak (and Le Pen being the runner-up arguably gives him a hand in the second round, as now he's the Anti-Le-Pen one). Is that 'plausible'?
 

TheIO

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Away from the UK, and ignoring Trump because he's too obvious a "not plausible oh shit now he is" figure, there's Macron. To become president, he has to resign and form his own party months later, and then he has to make this entirely new party do well while the other parties are weak (and Le Pen being the runner-up arguably gives him a hand in the second round, as now he's the Anti-Le-Pen one). Is that 'plausible'?
Not even just "do well" - he won the first round 4 (4) points above fourth place, so if he'd done even slightly worse he wouldn't have made it to the second round and the parliamentaries would look massively different too. Honestly, if I was writing OTL, him getting to be President would not at all be plausible; but he is now.
 

RyanF

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If we're talking Americans, arguably the moment Presidents like John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A. Arthur became possibilities was the death of each of their predecessors. Theodore Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson may have been in the running without serving as VP, and Truman was actually chosen in part because it was thought FDR might not live out his last term, but the others each feel that even as VP they would never be in contention for the top job, which says a lot about the evolving perception of that position as well.

Even after the ascendancy there was debate about whether Tyler was President or merely acting President, jokingly called "His Accidency". Fillmore, Andrew Johnson and Arthur were ticket ballast and were never major players in the administrations of Taylor, Lincoln, or Garfield. It's possible that they all might have been dropped as VP had their predecessors served a full term.
 

Charles EP M.

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Not even just "do well" - he won the first round 4 (4) points above fourth place, so if he'd done even slightly worse he wouldn't have made it to the second round and the parliamentaries would look massively different too. Honestly, if I was writing OTL, him getting to be President would not at all be plausible; but he is now.

That election was mental.

Elephant in the room too - you go even to 2015 and say "would Jeremy Corbyn be Prime Minister?", after a bunch of people said "who?", you'd be told no, someone like him never get the MPs needed to back his run to start with. And if you wrote in a story "ah, but a whole load of people join the party just to vote for him", people would go "and does Jeremy then end up dating Stephanie Beatrice like we know you want to?"
 

Kato

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My memories of 2005-2010 are that Cameron, once he became LotO, was less of an 'if' than a 'when' - albeit there was a period where he was probably doomed given his party's recent history and treatment of failing leaders. Private Eye one year on had him in a celebratory position with the speech bubble "I've survived". The assumption pre-global financial crisis was that getting back into government was a two election project, with the next election assumed to be a '92 analogue setting the ground for a '97 style landslide.

On Cameron and Osborne - another thing I've previously found interesting about both men is their immediate predecessors as MPs for Witney and Tatton respectively. Shaun Woodward defecting and Neil Hamilton being unseated by Independent candidate Martin Bell are both events tied intrinsically to the political circumstances of the OTL late '90s. Both Cameron and Osborne got their parliamentary breaks as a result of vacancies arising in traditionally strong Tory seats, in a way that would seem contrived if it occurred in a more divergent timeline.

Handily enough, Nick Clegg isn't plausible either for a good while either since you first need Ming Campbell to win and then resign not long after, with "ha ha he's old" being a recurring meme that discourages Vince Cable running; and you need Mark Oaten to resign after a scandal so Clegg can be the Home Affairs Spokesman for a year to boost him; and then he has to narrowly defeat Chris Huhne, the guy who almost won last time. And on top of that, Clegg has to resign as MEP a few months before Richard Allan decides to step down in the next election, so Clegg can have an MP seat at all! Nobody in 2004 is going to be picking him for their three-years-in-the-future timeline leader.
This is a really interesting chain of unlikely consequences. Outside Lib Dem circles, Clegg was very much a 'who?' figure, and I imagine a lot of his brief fleeting popularity in 2010 came from being that blank slate who still looked 'Prime Ministerial' to the general public. There's also the point about Clegg's narrow victory over Huhne being potentially down to the late return of postal votes due to (IIRC) a Royal Mail strike.
 

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I have a personal, fairly extreme "It'll probably be unrecognizable two election cycles after the POD" rule. Now this deserves the clarifications of:

1: It mainly applies to American presidential politics. I don't know enough about British politics (especially compared to you guys) to really feel that comfortable commenting, and can easily see why it could easily be less butterfly-ish in a parliamentary system.
2: Part of this is stylistic, driven by a personal squeamishness that is mild when dealing with a historical figure, decidedly uncomfortable when dealing with a living person, and very, very uncomfortable when dealing with an incumbent.

But still, I know enough examples of elections and nominations and whatnot influenced by weird, small butterflies and Events, whatever the political system, that I go for the sort of "broad butterfly approach" that I do.
 

Kato

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It mainly applies to American presidential politics. I don't know enough about British politics (especially compared to you guys) to really feel that comfortable commenting, and can easily see why it could easily be less butterfly-ish in a parliamentary system.
I should have added that this discussion is open to ALL political leaders - I've only come at it from a UK PM angle because that's what I know most, but Presidents and Premiers are very welcome.

I don't have much exposure to day to day NZ political news, but the rise of Jacinda Ardern feels like one of those 'unlikely chain of circumstances' events, though not totally out there. The slow rise from List MP to Deputy Leader is plausible enough; but everything from Andrew Little stepping down with an election imminent, to the 2017 election night where it seemed National would probably still eke ahead, to the Labour-NZF coalition felt (at least from half a world away) like rolling sixes.
 

Kato

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Without his appearance on Have I Got News For You would we have ever gotten Mayor of London and eventually Prime Minister Boris?
Mayor of London probably not - it feels like a position which more than most benefits from candidates having a clear and well known 'brand', as the UKs most presidential election by design.

But as Telegraph journalist, Editor of the Spectator, with longstanding political ambitions, networks, and resources; and with a track record of political expediency and flexibility (if not always judgement), I can see him rising up one way or another. A hardline eurosceptic with less or belated popular appeal (c.f. Rees-Mogg, Farage), able to ride a wave. Alternatively a moderniser ready to bring the party back into government.

He does feel like a very 'all or nothing' figure though - Boris the PM feels somehow more plausible than Boris the long-serving, loyal, and competent Cabinet Minister.


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Osborne's stock was at its highest after the 2015 election but he wasn't really seen as inevitable even then. Tbh in retrospect the chances of him succeeding, when set against his own desire for the top job, which wasn't complete, was fairly small. In a Remain win scenario it was generally believed he would be the sacrifice to bring the party together, and I don't think he runs in a scenario where he's clearly going to be dealing with a split party. I don't like the man but I will credit him with a high degree of self-awareness.

Johnson was about the thirty-fifth choice for the Tory mayoral nomination so yeah it's obviously easily diverged even with his career remaining the same.
 
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RyanF

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Mayor of London probably not - it feels like a position which more than most benefits from candidates having a clear and well known 'brand', as the UKs most presidential election by design.

But as Telegraph journalist, Editor of the Spectator, with longstanding political ambitions, networks, and resources; and with a track record of political expediency and flexibility (if not always judgement), I can see him rising up one way or another. A hardline eurosceptic with less or belated popular appeal (c.f. Rees-Mogg, Farage), able to ride a wave. Alternatively a moderniser ready to bring the party back into government.

He does feel like a very 'all or nothing' figure though - Boris the PM feels somehow more plausible than Boris the long-serving, loyal, and competent Cabinet Minister.
I'd argue that brand that got him the role of Mayor of London continued to serve him well enough to make him a key player in the EU Referendum and beyond. So whilst I agree with both your points it feels like for his own particular rise one could not exist without the other. Without that brand he cultivated in media appearances in the 00s and as Mayor he would not have been in the position he was in to play the part he did in the Referendum.

Of course, even if he hadn't in the ATL next door he might still be making moves for it possibly preparing for the General Election in a few weeks against the moribund Miliband minority government.
 

Nomad

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Kinnock and Ed Miliband are two obvious examples of leader who were widely seen as likely PMs due to being expected to be in the best position to form a government in 1992 and 2015 respectively.

As for when present leaders became inevitable, for Boris I might go with some point early on in the Brexit negotiations when May rejected special status for NI. Any attempt to take the UK out of the SM and CU whilst maintaining the status quo with regards to trade coming into NI from both the EU and the UK is going to produce a compromise that is unacceptable for most Brexiteers, and even if Boris didn't resign over Chequers, he likely would have done so in a later round of resignations once the terms of the deal became known, and would still be able to cast himself as the hard Brexit candidate.

For Starmer, I would go for his conference speech in 2018 when he got a round of applause for saying Labour would keep remain on the table. That was probably the most significant event that enabled him to cast himself as the leading advocate of Remain on the frontbench, as well as maybe the best known member of the Shadow Cabinet aside from maybe McDonnell and Abbott, neither of whom seemed likely to run to replace Corbyn.

In hindsight, Corbyn probably became viable after Falkirk, a strong contender as soon as he made the ballot in 2015, and inevitable after the welfare bill fiasco, when Burnham decided not to resign. For May, that point probably came only when Leadsom decided to drop out-given how bad a campaigner she was, I continue to believe that most of the other candidates would have stood a good chance of beating her had she had to face a run off.

Yeah, Osborne seemed the inevitable successor - the No.2 of a dominant Prime Minister that seemed in control of his party (ho ho).
I wouldn't say that Osborne was widely viewed as inevitable, so much as a major contender, given that Boris also existed and was widely seen as a possible successor too- hence why so much of the commentary focused on his PM ambitions when he declared for leave.
 
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Stateless

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Johnson turned up late to the selection for Henley, but then Borised them all and won them over. There's a good chance he's a little later than he was and he can't charm his way out of it and doesn't enter Parliament. But at this point he's already Speccy editor and an HIGNFY star so he probably inevitably enters Parliament at some later stage - 2001 election is most likely, maybe? - and that puts him back on OTL's path.
 

Kato

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Ed Miliband, Osborne, and now Corbyn are among those who I'd consider far less likely in hindsight than they were talked up to be at the time.

Conversely I'm much less sure post-2019 of the old left consensus that any Labour leader could have won against Major in 1997, or even that it was nailed on for Smith. There's probably a horribly depressing timeline to be written called 'One More Heave'.
 

Yokai Man

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Ed Miliband, Osborne, and now Corbyn are among those who I'd consider far less likely in hindsight than they were talked up to be at the time.

Conversely I'm much less sure post-2019 of the old left consensus that any Labour leader could have won against Major in 1997, or even that it was nailed on for Smith. There's probably a horribly depressing timeline to be written called 'One More Heave'.
I remember Neil Kinnock consoling Bryan Gould by saying that it is possible for him to become the leader of Smith doesn’t win the next election,as he genuinely thought that Gould was the party’s best shot if the Conservatives won again in 1997.

Him or Livingstone could run for the leadership in a scenario where Smith loses to Major.
 
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