2020: Alternative Reality
This week marks 4 years since the referendum result and David Cameron’s resignation… but how would things have played out had the result gone differently?
Prime Minister David Cameron walks out onto the steps on 10 Downing Street. He’s battered and bruised, but a large youth turnout helped the remain campaign over the line. After calling for both the party and the country to unite, he plans how to deal with the inevitable fallout from such a divisive campaign. Meanwhile, in Labour there are still murmurings over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and his lack of commitment to the cause during the referendum. However, a coup doesn’t materialise as the parliamentary party feel it is too soon to call for a second leadership election. Nigel Farage stays on as UKIP leader, reiterating his calls for a second referendum in the event of a narrow remain victory
David Cameron plots a reshuffle in September, ahead of party conference. Facing discontent from his Eurosceptic backbenchers, he elevates Boris Johnson into the cabinet, to join his fellow Vote Leave chair Michael Gove.
Despite his attempts to heal the internal conflicts, Cameron resigns his post in January, having never recovered from the tiring 2016 campaign. Theresa May, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are the favourites to replace him. May comfortably makes it into the final two and Johnson joins her, narrowly edging out Gove by winning the backing of the right of the party. The membership is then given the choice between the two.
During the leadership contest, the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections take place. Corbyn’s opposition to the Nuclear deterrent gives the Tories hope of taking the Copeland seat, but their lack of a leader counts against them and the anti-Labour vote is split by UKIP – resulting in a Labour hold. But it is not all good news for Labour as Nigel Farage makes it 8th time lucky and wins in Stoke. He becomes UKIP’s 2nd MP as pressure grows on Corbyn.
Boris Johnson wins the Conservative leadership race. Although he doesn’t call for another EU referendum, his prominent role in Vote Leave proves popular among the Eurosceptic Party Membership. The Local Elections see Labour haemorrhage votes to both the Tories and Liberal Democrats.
By the end of the year, polling sees Johnson’s Tories 15 points ahead of Corbyn’s Labour, with the Liberal Democrats and UKIP both sitting on 10%.
The year begins with UKIP’s Douglas Carswell defecting back to Johnson’s Tories, leaving Farage as the party’s only parliamentary representative. Infighting ensues and they drop in the polls, opening up a wider lead for the Conservatives. This proves to be the final straw for the Parliamentary Labour Party, who finally launch a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn. Chuka Umunna, Jess Phillips and Dan Jarvis put their names forward, as Andy Burnham decides against a third attempt.
While Corbyn looks to be the early favourite, Umunna and Phillips drop out, leaving Jarvis as the sole moderate candidate for newly- registered members to support. Jarvis wins the tightly- fought contest after Corbyn’s perceived anti-Western response to the Salisbury poisonings proves to be his undoing. The other candidates are given prominent positions as Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer are promoted into the Shadow Cabinet for the first time.
Labour make a healthy recovery in the local elections, gaining seats from UKIP. The Liberal Democrats also fall in the polls, as a more moderate Labour Party hoovers up a decent chunk of its’ vote. By the end of the year, 2 party politics seems to be making a comeback
Jarvis’ Labour move ahead in the polls as he seems to be winning back the voters who deserted the party in favour of the Tories in 2015. Johnson is marred by Cabinet resignations and is pushed into offering a second referendum by his backbenches to try and win over left-leaning Eurosceptics, many of whom are still leaning towards UKIP. Prominent Leave campaigner Steve Baker is promoted to the front bench in the summer reshuffle.
The European elections see Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Tories all make slight gains from UKIP, although Farage’s party still maintain a healthy presence in Brussels.
Johnson’s attempts to shift the debate back onto Europe are questioned by Labour, who see it as a cynical ploy to distract from continuing austerity. Farage questions Johnson’s loyalty to the cause, citing the former Mayor of London’s previous support for immigration and the single market, but the Tories’ enjoy a bounce in the polls.
The Liberal Democrats start the year with murmurings of discontent against Tim Farron, as the party struggles to distinguish itself from Dan Jarvis’ moderate and anti- second referendum Labour Party. However, no change is made and rumours persist of a potential alliance in a handful of Tory-held marginals.
Polls indicate a hung parliament is to be expected in May’s General Election, with Labour gaining half of the seats lost to the SNP and winning urban constituencies from the Conservatives. EU membership cools the desire for independence North of the border Both major parties are predicted to fall just shy of 300 seats, with the Liberal Democrats projected to increase their number of MPs to 15, but Covid-19 ensures the election is delayed until 2021. Initially the Tories’ approval rating soars before returning to normal levels, leaving a volatile playing field before the electorate go to the polls early next year.