"A Very British Transition" - A Post-Junta Britain TL

I can't imagine Blackadder Goes Forth being made in this environment. The military leaders would not look kindly on the urine being extracted from the gallant actions and the brave soldiers of The Great War.
Same probably goes for It Ain't Half Hot Mum and Dad's Army unless they are written with a slightly more serious tone or greater respect in each episodes outcome.
Considering the comments Michael Gove made about Blackadder Goes Forth in OTL, they would've arrested Atkinson as soon as someone saw a script. You can't let the public see unpatriotic tosh like that.
I can imagine Dad's Army being totally different to OTL if it ever got made. No more rivalry between Mainwaring and Hodges, Godfrey's storyline about being a pacifist would be gone and Walkers black market exploits would be gone too. There'd be more episodes about capturing Germans too. I doubt it would last more than one series.
"Go on then you big girls blouse, you've crushed one of my nuts, go on and to t'other, so that they can say of me that I will have died with you scratching my nuts."​
Transcr. note: They really were the secret policeman's balls.​
—Archivally located material. KV #/####-#### (leak) [4 October 1989. Chapman, G. Detention case file. Fatality incident report. Tape transcript. Annotated.]
yours crying,
Sam R.
This made me think of Terry Gilliam's situation, which in turn prompts a question. Did the Junta ever get itself into diplomatic disputes by arresting or prosecuting "subversive" types who were citizens of other countries? Or would those folks just get deported back to their countries of origin?
Subversives who were citizens of other countries were deported to said countries
On the other hand, if Rowan Atkinson is one of the ones that crosses the Atlantic, the entire Blackadder series (not just Goes Forth) could be one that could probably be filmed out of Canada (whether it's in Toronto, at the old Jarvis Street studios, or in Montreal, at the Maison de Radio-Canada, is immaterial). In that case, Blackadder could also be somewhat self-referential in the fact that it's a "British" series that's not filmed in Britain (providing some room for making fun of people with strange accents that make even English people wince), which means it could be far more cheeky about some of the old sacred cows of English Canada than Canadians themselves would be willing to admit (as outside observers of Canadian society - and sometimes the best comedy can be from people who look at society with fresh eyes). In the case of Blackadder Goes Forth, for example, the willingness to die for the Empire during WW1 was something that was just as easily embraced by English Canada as in the UK (in French Canada, reeling off of stuff like Regulation 17, not so much). So there's a lot of scope to present not only the original OTL message Rowan and co. wanted to convey, but also to reflect on trans-Atlantic differences, as well as Quebec's conscription crisis (very timely, if we follow the OTL timeline - and even if not, there would be some scope for disguised commentary) and the willingness to base the formation of national identity on a single battle (even if absolutely awful). So, in its wittiness, Blackadder could go far further than even in its OTL BBC incarnation ITTL.
Considering the comments Michael Gove made about Blackadder Goes Forth in OTL, they would've arrested Atkinson as soon as someone saw a script. You can't let the public see unpatriotic tosh like that.
I can imagine Dad's Army being totally different to OTL if it ever got made. No more rivalry between Mainwaring and Hodges, Godfrey's storyline about being a pacifist would be gone and Walkers black market exploits would be gone too. There'd be more episodes about capturing Germans too. I doubt it would last more than one series.
Atkinson, being from a wealthy family and annoyed at the Junta's repression, would make his way to Canada to study at the University of Toronto. As the Toronto drama/comedy scene was a lot stronger than that of 1970s London Atkinson decided to stay and make his career in Canada. Ironically his brother Rodney ended up becoming a National Party MP from 1993 to 2005, although he left politics after the Cardiff Accords were signed.

A version of Blackadder was produced in Canada and was fairly successful in Canada, as well as some other Anglophone countries, but never reached the global stage or it's OTL cultural significance.

Dad's Army was made but heavily censored from the OTL version, leading to a lot tamer but much less funny version. It didn't last more than a season being promptly forgotten
Chapter 73: Drenched to the Bone

Solider returned to Britain's street, but for once it wasn't a coup

“Huge waves have battered the southern and western coasts of the UK, as forecasters warn exposed areas could see a fresh round of flooding. Waves of up to 27ft (8m) were recorded off Land's End, Cornwall. The environment secretary said eight people had died and 2,000 homes had been flooded in England due to storms and flooding. There are currently three severe flood warnings in place in England and travel by road and rail is being hit. The province of Gloucestershire has borne the brunt of the latest severe weather, with flooding leaving some villages cut off. The Environment Agency has warned communities along the Thames to "remain prepared" for more flooding on Monday and the rest of the week.”
- Giant waves hit amid fresh flooding fears, BBC News Buletin (2014)

Internal observers had begun to describe Downing Street as “the cursed office”. Alan Johnson had famously had all manner of miseries inflicted on him, from assassination attempts to economic crashes. William Hague now seemed to inherit a similar curse, with a party split and austerity increasingly unpopular, Hague was facing enemies from the inside and out. It was at this point even god decided to have a pop at the beleaguered Prime Minister. Massive floods hit the United Kingdom destroying 600 houses, costing the government over a billion euros in damages and emergency response - a billion euros the Government didn’t have.

Some in the Anglican community saw the flooding as biblical retribution for Hague’s failure to roll back Johnson’s civil liberties legislation. Writing in the Spectator Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Nazir-Ali wrote “a Christian nation that abandons its faith will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.” Whilst these statements were roundly mocked in the liberal press, Nazir-Ali still had a great deal of sway in the English shires Hague would have hold onto from the Centrists if he wanted to keep his premiership. The floods had hit rural communities, mostly National strongholds the hardest, Hague needed a strong response to prove he was the man for the job.


The Environment Department - responsible for flood defences - had been drastically cut

The hardest hit province was Gloucestershire where Provincial President Jonathan Hill announced a state of emergency as the province reported its highest rainfall since records began in 1910. Several railway lines in Gloucestershire were flooded, bringing public transport to a halt, leaving the South West cut-off from the rest of the country, network rail predicted the damage to Gloucestershire's railways could take up to six months to fix. Even more worryingly power lines were brought down by the floods, leading to tens of thousands of homes without power and rolling blackouts in Bristol. In some parts of the city this led to sporadic rioting and looting as emergency services struggled to respond.

“As darkness fell, residents of flooded areas in Berkshire formed community groups to watch over their homes in the absence of the police. "We've seen a few suspicious looking vans without number plates prowling around in the last couple of days," said Richard Levett. "And they want to build the new runway here?" he added, pointing to a two-storey house that he said had sold some months ago, but which now had small brown waves lapping at the front door. Next door, an elderly couple were packing their belongings into a car as they headed off to spend the night in a hotel. "It's crazy. People have been warning Heathrow's operators that this area was at risk of flooding like this." As other locals gathered at corners of the estate, there was frustration at the authorities for not paying attention to flooding in the area.” - UK flood victims on alert as fears of looting and yet more water intensify, Ben Quinn, The Guardian (2014)

Around the Cabinet table debates would rage on whether to send the troops in. Whilst in a normal country, sending in soldiers to help with crisis management was fairly typical, in the UK it came with all sorts of political connotations, especially in regards to the Bristol riots, where some worried soldiers would only inflame tension. Environment Secretary Ed Davey, who had been hammered in the press for his slow response to the flooding, pleaded with the Prime Minister not to send troops in, instead leaving the flood response to civilian crisis managers. After a series of back and forth the Cabinet agreed the Gloucestershire Provincial Government would be granted a further 80 million euros to combat the flood, and that 3,000 troops would be dispatched to the region to help with flood prevention only, not public order duties.


National had only accepted the facts of climate change fairly recently

In a personal visit to Gloucestershire, Hague would tell residents “money is no object” as he oversaw the deployment of troops and the roll-out of extra funds. Over a thousand people had to be evacuated from Gloucestershire and surrounding provinces. Agriculture Secretary Diane James also released over 10 million euros to South West farmers, to allow it’s all-important agriculture industry to recover. Whilst it had taken a great deal of time for the Government to act, it slowly began to dispatch further resources to the South Western provinces, although once again the National Party’s polling had taken a great hit from the crisis. Focus groups describe Hague as “slow”, “dithering” and “weak” in his reaction to the floods.

Despite this, opposition leader David Miliband failed to make much political stock of the floods. Miliband was heckled in a visit to Windsor and his criticisms of the Government’s cuts to the environment agency and natural disaster relief rang hollow when it was the Johnson administration that had begun these cuts to begin with. Miliband’s failure to land a strong blow against National as the water rose around them further infuriated the Social Democrat’s backbenchers. Miliband’s approval ratings had been consistently falling since he was elected SDP leader. As both National and SDP backbenches buzzed with talk of leadership challenges, both major parties seemed unable to cope with the task at hand.

“This morning’s YouGov/Sun daily polling results are here. Topline figures are NAT 29%, SDP 23%, SA 11%, REF 10%, SNP 3%, RISE 2%. There are two noteworthy things in the regular trackers. One, the gap between the people blaming the government for the cuts (29%) and the people blaming the SDP (33%) is the lowest YouGov have had so far. Two, people appear to be getting less worried, the 63% of people who say they worry about having enough money is the lowest they’ve shown since the election. Both are presumably a sign of economic optimism continuing to creep upwards. Meanwhile the Populus poll yesterday had figures of NAT 30%, SDP 20%, SA 15%, REF 12% SNP 4%, RISE 2%.” - UK Polling Report (2014)


Flooding and corruption took it's toll on Hague's approval rating
This morning’s YouGov/Sun daily polling results are here. Topline figures are NAT 29%, SDP 23%, SA 11%, REF 10%, SNP 3%, RISE 2%. There are two noteworthy things in the regular trackers. One, the gap between the people blaming the government for the cuts (29%) and the people blaming the SDP (33%) is the lowest YouGov have had so far. Two, people appear to be getting less worried, the 63% of people who say they worry about having enough money is the lowest they’ve shown since the election. Both are presumably a sign of economic optimism continuing to creep upwards. Meanwhile the Populus poll yesterday had figures of NAT 30%, SDP 20%, SA 15%, REF 12% SNP 4%, RISE 2%
Can’t People’s Party get even a single digit? Or is it simply too early to say it in normal polling?
2014 EU Election Part 1

The Alternative hoped to make a breakthrough at the EU election, but now they had to compete with the People's Party

“The 2014 EP election in the UK took place in the context of a profound economic depression as a result of the financial crisis and housing bubble. After six years, the indicators of economic growth were non-existent. Moreover, since 2011, a large number of budget cuts in social spending had taken place as a ‘shock therapy’ to reduce the public deficits. This series of events caused unprecedented protest mobilisations in the streets. The election was expected to generate exceptional outcomes. Neither the SDP nor National was able to retrieve the situation. The combination of broken election promises and corruption brought them to unprecedented levels of disapproval. This would lead to mass mobilisation of voters from the left.”
- The 2014 European Election in the UK, David Cutts (2015)

With floods and austerity in the background, the EU election was looking very choppy for both National and the Social Democrats. Polls showed both major parties on less than 60% of the vote for the first time in Britain's democratic history, down from over 80% of the vote at the 2009 elections. The Alternative, Reform and Scottish Separatist parties were all expected to do well from the European Parliament elections. Unemployment continued to rise despite austerity and allegations of corruption dogged both parties, especially National who remained under active investigation from the authorities for fiddling with expenses and using donations to maintain a slush fund.

By now William Hague had hoped to get unemployment and the deficit under control, so he could present to a sceptical public the benefits of his austerity programme. Instead, despite painful reductions in public spending the national unemployment metric had hardly moved, with youth unemployment even going up. Whilst Hague could still blame the previous Johnson administration for the difficult economic situation he had inherited, the public’s patience with National was wearing thinner and thinner. Hague also had to deal with accusations he was too close to Angela Merkel, an EPP colleague and much hated figure among the British public. Merkel was seen as the face of the Troika and Hague’s vocal support for the bailout deal seemed unpatriotic to left and right. Hague had been particularly humiliated after threatening to vote against Merkel’s preferred EPP Spitzenkandidaten -Michel Barnier - describing him as a “dangerous federalist”. This was before publicly climbing down and giving Barnier his support after pressure from other EPP leaders.

Hague had also come under criticism for throwing overboard National’s eurosceptic caucus leader Francis Maude, instead replacing him with a much more europhile leader in Nicky Morgan MEP. Maude had roundly irritated EPP colleagues in Brussels and had even called on National to leave the EPP group and found a new centre-right bloc. Whilst Hague was a soft-eurosceptic himself and would traditionally be open to that kind of thing, he couldn’t afford to further alienate European partners, especially Merkel, whilst Britain was still in the midst of an economic bailout from the EU. Morgan’s accession had caused disquiet on National benches in Westminster and Brussels, further building tension on Hague.


Cruddas and Miliband would fall out over the election campaign

The Social Democrats hoped to capitalise on this by promoting Jon Cruddas as their lead candidate, seen as on the left of the party and with a soft-eurosceptic edge, leading Social Democrats hoped Cruddas could capitalise on anti-European sentiment sweeping through the nation. At the campaign launch Cruddas promised a vote for the SDP would be a “vote for change”, unlike a vote for National which would be a “vote for submission”. However, Cruddas’ appointment had greatly upset several other members of the SDP’s MEP caucus, most of them having more pro-European views than Cruddas, some even being proud federalists. As well as this, the SDP’s attack on the Troika rang hollow as they had been the ones to originally negotiate Britain's bailout deal

“The European discourse of the Social Democratic Party remains obscure. Despite the fact that bad economic conditions are usually good news for an opposition, the SDP is likely to suffer large losses. The SDP is generally seen as pro-integration, despite the fact that its supporters have grown more Eurosceptic. The SDP campaign has tried to solve this contradiction by promoting soft-eurosceptic Jon Cruddas to leadership, who argues the EU has been governed by “the right” during the crisis. But it is difficult to sell this message when the president of the Eurogroup and vice-president of the Commission are Social Democrats. This comes at the same time as leader David Miliband has attempted to stress the importance of keeping to EU economic policy commitments.” - The SDP Under Threat, Lecture by Richard Johnson, London School of Economics

For the first time ever the BBC arranged a direct debate between the lead candidates of both main parties, Morgan and Cruddas. Ironically the parties had seemingly reversed from 2009, with National playing the defenders of the bailout and the Social Democrats criticising a cosy relation with Brussels, thoroughly confusing both parties’ traditional supporters. To the outrage of many, third parties locked out the debate, including the Alternative who were polling well into the double digits. Unfortunately for the main parties, neither Morgan nor Cruddas made a good impression on the electorate, with 61% of respondents in a BBC snap poll saying neither MEP had won.


Ribeiro-Addy known colloquially as just 'Bell' had the highest approval rating of the UK-wide party leaders

As third parties grew the main story of the election was the People’s Party, who was less than a hundred days old. Leader Bell Rebiero-Addy crossed the country and appeared on television constantly as part of a “People’s Blitz”. The People’s Party raised tens of thousands in crowdfunding, allowing them to pay the hefty 40,000 euro deposit required to run a full slate of candidates in the European elections. People’s Party candidates included well known celebrities such as comedian Mark Thomas and even world-famous actors like Sean Bean would make an appearance towards the bottom of the list. One of the most eye-catching proposals was for People’s MEPs only to claim a 23,000 euro salary, a quarter of their entitlement. In the face of austerity, corruption scandals and increasingly euroscepticism, the People’s Party found fertile terrain for their populist brand of politics, despite polling in single digits.

With this theme of populist discontent the election campaign drew to a close. National, already wounded before the campaign had only taken a further battering, as eurosceptics deserted the party and europhiles gave their support to the Reform Party or Unity. Seeing a chance to give Hague and his cuts a kicking, few publicly gave their support and morale was low in the party. The SDP too had a bad election, the appointment of Cruddas had blown up in Miliband’s face as eurosceptics moved to the radical left and the SDP’s intelligentsia base were pushed away by Cruddas’ euroscepticism. As polls closed the press was ready for a bloodbath, Huffington Post editor Mehdi Hasan described the election as “the end of the two-party system as we know it”.

“The opinion polls all agree: Britain's two-party system is suffering from a kind of burnout that has not been seen in recent years. And the main beneficiaries of the steady decline in voter support for the SDP and National are the leftist SA and the centrist Reform Party. SA - which is a veteran association of communists and republicans typically garners around 10% of the vote. Reform - a newcomer to the political scene, which has been gaining traction on a progressive, liberal program. Both facing a turning point that will test their organisations and their internal structures. A recent simulation of EU election results conducted by YouGov showed the SA and Reform obtaining 16 percent and 11 percent of the vote.” - Could the EU elections spell the end of the two-party system?, BBC News Bulletin (2014)


No one saw the People's Party coming
2014 EU Elections, Part 2


Hague had lost, but Miliband lost more

“Britain’s two main parties obtained their worst results in democratic history at the European elections on Sunday. Despite the fact that National lost 3.7 million votes, its leaders expressed satisfaction at having beaten the SDP, whose results are the worst on record. In fact, Hague can boast to be the only leader of a large European country, together with Germany’s Angela Merkel, to come out the winner of these elections. “The only goal was to win, and we managed that,” said high-placed National sources. Campaign Coordinator Sajid Javid said the party was “satisfied,” without mentioning the loss of votes. Meanwhile, the SDP lead candidate for the elections, Jon Cruddas admitted that theirs has been “a bad result”. At stake could be the political future of party leader David Miliband.”
- Two-party system dealt major blow in EU elections, BBC News Bulletin (2014)

William Hague had some good news and bad news. The bad news was he lost almost a third of his MEPs in an unprecedented swing against the National Party. The good news was the Social Democrats got hit just as hard, allowing him to declare a perverse victory in the European elections. Hague’s allies tried to spin this as a good result for the Prime Minister, press secretary Tim Montgomerie pointed out Britain was one of the only countries where the governing party won the European elections, but despite this a 14 point swing against could not be chalked up as a win. All in all the big two lost over 7 million votes between them, scattering to third parties or just blinding apathy.

Whilst EU elections had long been considered “second order” elections in other EU countries like France - meaning voters felt more free to cast protest votes - Britain had always treated the EU elections with reverence. The overwhelmingly Europhilic nature of the British public, coupled with the novelty of EU membership meant Brits tended to take the EU polls more “seriously” than other member states, treating them like a general election and electing centrist, mainstream MEPs. These election results were a sign this seriousness had ended and the European Parliament became another second order election for the British public to vent their frustrations in. Whilst this might have provided some solace to Hague and Miliband, as voters would likely still return to the fold for a general election, it did expose the cynicism and rage at the heart of British politics. In short, Britain’s EU “honeymoon” was over.


The radical left for the first time was a tangible threat to the centre

The winners of the poll were the various smaller parties, the Alternative, Reform, left-separatists, Unity, and even the Centrists all gained seats, some for the first time. But the big story of the night was the People’s Party. Within a hundred days the People’s Party had gone from literally not existing to touching distance of becoming Britain’s third largest party, leapfrogging the SNP and even Reform in the pecking order. At a victory rally Ribeiro-Addy declared Britain had “thrown out the duopoly”. With 15 MEPs between the two radical parties, British MEPs made up nearly a third of the “United Left” grouping of the European Parliament, overtaking the German Die Linke grouping. Michael Meacher, who also had a good night, alluded to an alliance with the People’s Party, calling for “grand coalition of left forces” in a press conference, combining the two would hold the votes of nearly 20% of the British electorate, a powerful force.

“Unlike voters in many European countries, Brits rejected parties that favour cutting ties with the EU. But they gave strong support to anti-austerity leftist parties and separatists in Scotland. The Socialist Alternative, a coalition that includes Communists, added six seats for a total of eight. PEOPLE'S, a new party that adopted the rhetoric of the "OutRage" movement that took over British square three years ago, secured seven seats. Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the People's Party leader, said after the vote: "We don't want to be a colony of Germany or the Troika". Scottish voters turned out in strong numbers to make the separatist RISE party, the region's top party. RISE got 24% of the vote, up from 9% in 2009. RISE was part of a separatist coalition that won three European Parliament seats nationwide.” - British Major Parties Lose Ground to Upstart Parties, Ilan Brat, Wall Street Journal (2014)

Another surprise was in Scotland, where turnout had fallen on average across the country, in Scotland it had jumped up by over 10%. This mostly benefited RISE, who’s "Free Democrats" list of left separatists - including Forward Wales and Sinn Fein - tripled it’s representation from one MEP to three. Scottish President Patrick Harvie had called for Scots to “send a signal” to Brussels of their pro-European instincts. Separatist parties overwhelmingly won the European elections in Scotland, the Harvie Government remained in a popular honeymoon phase, and momentum towards an independence referendum seemed unstoppable. For Scotland’s nationalist parties, the European elections were just another tool in the box pushing them ever closer towards independence.


The RISE/SNP Government had been vindicated by EU elections

Britain’s EU elections were also notable, that whilst other countries like France, Italy and the Netherlands moved to the right in their Parliamentary elections, Britain’s populist wave came from the left. The Centrists, despite the hype, only won one seat for their leader James Cleverly - a net loss considering two National MEPs had defected before the election. The People’s Party and Alternative on the other hand were riding an all time high. Maybe it was the memory of dictatorship, or the relatively low levels of immigration, but Britain had somehow resisted the Le Pen wave sweeping the continent. But this also meant the People’s Party had a target on it’s back, Reform Party leader Sarah Brown in one interview declared that the People’s Party "pursued the same kind of politics as Marie Le Pen". Bell Riberio-Addy would no longer be treated as a harmless curiosity by the press, the movement had to prepare for attacks.

The biggest scalp of the European Parliament elections would be David Miliband. Since losing the 2012 elections, he had failed to gain much cut-through as leader of the opposition, under his tenure the SDP had fallen to fourth in the Scottish Parliament elections and failed to overtake in polls even as National faced scandal after scandal. Miliband couldn’t survive the European elections, an unmitigated disaster for the party. Even in party strongholds like Brighton, Bristol and Sheffield the party’s vote share had collapsed, all three cities won by the People’s Party. In a press conference Miliband declared he would be taking “full responsibility” for the landslide defeat, telling reporters the SDP needed a leader who could “regain Britain’s trust”. After just two years David Miliband would be leaving the stage.

“The EU elections have claimed a prominent victim, with the leader of Britain's centre-left announcing he will resign. David Miliband, who has led the SDP since February 2012, said he would take “political responsibility for the bad results”. The SDP returned just 20 MEPs to the Parliament, 11 less than it had in 2009. It lost the election to the centre-right National Party of William Hague, Britain’s prime minister, which won 23 seats. The SDP suffered more than its rival from the rise of anti-establishment parties in these elections. One such party, the left-wing People's Party, which was created at the start of 2014, won seven seats. Meanwhile, Reform, founded in 2007, won 5 seats, up from one in 2009. The opposition leader said that he would remain in the role of secretary general of the party "until it is decided who will replace me". - British Social Democrats leader resigns, Nicholas Hirst, Politico (2014)


There was no obvious successor to Miliband
UK European Parliament Delegation 2014-2019
UK European Parliament Delegation 2014-2019
  • National Party - 23
  • Social Democratic Party - 20
  • Socialist Alternative - 8
  • People’s Party - 7
  • Reform Party - 5
  • European Free Alliance - 4
  • Alliance of Free Democrats - 3
  • Unity - 2
  • Ecology Party - 1
  • The Centrists - 1
European Free Alliance - 4
Alliance of Free Democrats - 3

Sorry, I've lost track - who are the member parties of the European Free Alliance? I know you said RISE, Forward Wales, and Sinn Fein were in the Free Democrats. So are the SNP and Plaid Cymru the only EFA members or are there others?
Sorry, I've lost track - who are the member parties of the European Free Alliance? I know you said RISE, Forward Wales, and Sinn Fein were in the Free Democrats. So are the SNP and Plaid Cymru the only EFA members or are there others?
Other potential members of the EFA like Mebyon Kernow, or the Yorkshire Party are too small to get elected so SNP and Plaid Cymru would be the only ones with MEPs.
Sorry, I've lost track - who are the member parties of the European Free Alliance? I know you said RISE, Forward Wales, and Sinn Fein were in the Free Democrats. So are the SNP and Plaid Cymru the only EFA members or are there others?
Yes the EFA are liberal separatists, including SNP, Plaid, Mebyon Kernow and the Yorkshire Party. three of the EFA MEPs are SNP members, whilst one is a Plaid member
Social Democratic Party Leadership Election, Part 1

Miliband had been nicknamed "brains" by Alan Johnson

“After eight years as an MP, David Miliband, announced on Thursday that he would be leaving politics and starting as a university lecturer. Miliband had already announced that he would be stepping down as party leader, after poor results in the recent European polls. He will leave his seat in September, and then shortly begin teaching political science at Oxford. “I hope that you miss me as much as I will miss you,” Miliband joked with journalists in Parliament on Thursday, smiling. There were tears in the veteran politician’s eyes when his fellow MPs gave him a standing ovation in the Commons. “We say farewell to David Miliband with great sadness,” said Speaker Vince Cable. “He will always be remembered as a great parliamentary figure.”
- An emotional farewell for opposition leader David Miliband, BBC News Bulletin (2014)

With David Miliband leaving the field, the Social Democrats were pretty headless, having been decimated left and right. All of Miliband’s expected successors had imploded one way or another, Alan Sugar had split off to form his own party, Yvette Cooper led the Scottish Social Democrats to disaster and Deputy Leader Rosie Boycott ruled herself out - intending to quit politics altogether. Other leading Shadow Cabinet members like Tim Farron, Douglas Alexander or Ed Balls lacked the gravitas or internal infrastructure to mount a credible challenge. There were only two real candidates, Foreign Secretary Polly Toynbee, who had the backing of the party’s liberal wing, and former runner-up Andy Burnham from the populist wing of the party.

Burnham in particular had been an interesting case, since his rambunctious leadership bid in 2012 where he railed against immigration and the European Central bank, he had pivoted to a more conciliatory position, serving loyally as Culture Secretary, moving his interventions towards traditional SDP issues of health and social care. With the People’s Party’s populist wave sweeping through the nation, Burnham’s style of politics could be seen as vindicated, with the likely backing of major unions like Amicus and the AGO Burnham would certainly be the candidate to beat. Most notably in a poll of former SDP voters by YouGov, a plurality of respondents said Burnham would be the most likely candidate to drag them back to the party. With the Social Democrats facing oblivion, maybe it was time to think outside the box.


Toynbee was a rare survivor from the first 2005 Johnson Cabinet

Miliband and those around him were horrified at the idea of a Burnham leadership, throwing their support behind Toynbee. The liberal-dominated Federal Council made moves to lock the party’s old left out of power through reforms to the leadership voting system. Rather than the old conference votes that left power in the hands of union grandees, Miliband moved the SDP to an open primary system, meaning anyone who registered as a paid supporter of the Social Democrats could cast their vote. Miliband’s allies believed an influx of “ordinary voters” into the party would push the SDP closer to the centre. With over 250,000 members of the party, the leadership election would be won on the airwaves, rather than the picket line.

“The SDP’s time in opposition was marked by complex and informal deliberations. As a result, the party ended up developing new democratic innovations, such as party primaries and direct votes. In this respect, the SDP also resembles the Danish Alternativet or the Romanian Demos in their quest for new forms of party democracy. The electoral consequences of such internal debates and organisational changes are unclear, though. The organisational consequences have been far more clear. They contributed to strengthening the power of the party leader to the detriment of the party's middle-level elites. In this respect, the SDP followed the path of many cartel parties trying to react to weakening linkages with its electoral base.” - The SDP’s democratic innovations in turbulent times for the social democracy, Lecture by Emmanuelle Avril, New Sorbonne University Paris (2014)

As leading Social Democrats like Peter Mandelson, Sandi Toskvig and Clare Gerada stood aside for the leadership election, it began to look increasingly like a two horse race, several backbench MPs like Damian McBride, Anas Sarwar and James Bloodworth would all try to start up insurgent campaigns before crashing out spectacularly. The only third candidate to emerge was Sadiq Khan. Khan was known to most people as acting Prime Minister during the 2009 coup, as the most senior elected official not held at gunpoint. Khan had helped organise a provisional government and arguably played the most important role in stopping the coup. This had made Khan a hero to progressives across Britain. It was with this name recognition alone Khan could challenge the big two.


The Social Democrats went from civil resistance to establishment in less than a decade

The mood dominating the party was one of fear, falling into irrelevance was a very genuine threat, nervous MPs looked to the pasokification of other centre-left parties across Europe and began nervously updating their CVs. In speeches up and down the country Toynbee warned the SDP’s electoral base was vanishing fast, pointing to the stronghold city of Sheffield, which voted for the People's Party in the euro elections. Burnham hoped to counter low morale among activists with a campaign message of change, warning “the people consider us part of the system, rather than an instrument to change the system”. Khan meanwhile, by far the youngest of the three candidates, focused his campaign on a message of regeneration, arguing his lack of baggage made him the best candidate to bring the SDP back from the brink.

Lightning seemed to strike twice for Burnham, as polls showed him with a narrow lead over his two opponents. Burnham had adapted remarkably well to the new politics of open primary, appearing at picket lines and protests across the country. Burnham would snap up endorsements from civil society, ranging from LGBT rights groups to environmental organisations. At the start of his campaign Burnham had promised to fight the People’s Party “on their own turf” and his campaign looked remarkably similar to that of Bell Riberio-Addy. Burnham had watched his old employers from the Irish Labour Party go under, he was determined for it not to happen again - even if that meant fighting fire with fire.

As Burnham, Khan and Toynbee fought at rallies, in debates and over the airwaves, Britain’s few thousands committed Social Democrats got to have their say. Toynbee would get an eleventh-hour boost as former Prime Minister Alan Johnson would charge onto the field to endorse her campaign. Turnout was reported to be high, around 70% as hundreds of thousands of ballots were mailed into Callaghan House. The three camps would finally converge in Newcastle, for the Social Democrat's 2014 Federal Council. The party of Alan Johnson had it’s back to the wall, going from a natural party of government to the edge of disaster, now it would elect a miracle worker to dig the centre-left out of it’s international hole.

“After humiliating election defeats, Britain's Social Democrats choose a new leader this weekend. Voters turfed the SDP out of seven years in power in a crushing 2012 election defeat, punishing them for a recession and mushrooming debt. Even now, after two years of Prime Minister William Hague's government the SDP have failed to claw back popular support. Indeed, their position may be even more precarious. In elections for Britain's seats in the European Parliament, the Social Democrats attracted a paltry 25 percent of the vote, losing 11 of their 31 seats. It was the final blow for their secretary general, David Miliband, who announced his departure the next day.” - Britain's battered Social Democrats seek new leader, Associated Press (2014)


Leading the Social Democrats would be a thankless task
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