The Last Post: Chapter Four


Johnson B+W

“The Last Post” is a counter-factual, or “alternate history” scenario. It is published in  weekly instalments here on Things Can Only Get Better. It is a work of fiction, of speculation, and of a certain amount of wish fulfilment. All quotes and references are “in-universe”.

Previous chapters are indexed here.

Chapter Four: The Shabby Deals



“Fucking hell! We’re ahead, we’re actually ahead!”

– Anonymous Labour party worker. 

“Gordon started calculating ‘the numbers’ on a jotter pad in his thick black felt-tip pen. Someone from Party HQ had emailed across a list of the seats still to declare. By our reckoning there were thirteen held by the Conservatives, thirteen held by us, with five Lib Dems and two “other” – Respect in Bethnal Green and Sinn Fein in Fermanagh. If every seat was held – a long-shot in itself – the final result would be Conservative 281, Labour 282, Lib Dems 58 and others 29.

“It looked like there might – just about – be the numbers for a Lab-Lib majority. The projected Lab-Lib total was 340, a majority 326. As for our being the largest party; all aside from Gordon (who had two hours sleep on the rest of us) were doubtful it would last. The were too many safe Tory shires and too many of our marginals yet to declare…”[1]

– Andrew Adonis, 2013. 7 Days in May.


“By May of 2010 there were many in the Conservative Party who had their doubts about the Cameron Project. For arch-traditionalists, ‘hug-a-hoody’ and rooftop wind turbines were beyond the pale. Whether they were old-school Thatcherites or the Monday Club social conservatives, they had been far more comfortable with the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith or Michael Howard. Such leaders having been electoral poison didn’t seem to bother them. For a while they held their tongues. Twenty point poll leads from mid-2009, alongside the apparent certainty of majority government after thirteen long years did much to mollify them. No matter their misgivings, the Project was working.

“But then it began to go wrong. As growth returned to the economy and unemployment fell at the start of 2010, Brown and Labour began to narrow the gap. Polls no longer showed the protest votes of mid-term, but instead the genuine levels of enthusiasm for an alternative government. That enthusiasm was sorely lacking. Projections began to show Hung Parliaments. Then came the debates and ‘Clegg mania’. As serious tactical errors go, allowing the debates was huge misjudgement,  the blame for which was levelled squarely at David Cameron.

Cameron would later argue that his failure to secure an absolute majority was because the modernisation project was not yet finished. Becoming Prime Minister was always supposed to be a two-term project. Predictably this would cut no ice. If the traditionalists had been angry to begin with, they became beyond livid on that morning when it began to appear as if Labour would remain the largest party.”[2]

– Alan Marshall, 2016. The Shire Revolt.






Election 2010 

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Clegg arrives at Cowley Street.

“Now we’re in a very fluid political situation with no party enjoying an overall majority. As I’ve said before, it seems to me in a situation like this, it is vital that all political parties, all political leaders, act in the national interest; and not out of narrow party political advantage. I’ve also said that whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats, if not an absolute majority, has the first right to seek to govern; either on its own or by reaching out to other parties. And I stick to that view. It seems this morning as if it’s the Conservative party that has more votes, though not an absolute majority, and that is why it think it is now for the Conservative Party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest.

“At the same time, this election campaign has made it abundantly clear that our electoral system is broken. It simply doesn’t reflect the hopes and aspirations of the British people. So I repeat again my assurance that whatever happens in the coming hours, and days, and weeks, I’ll continue to argue not only for the greater fairness in British society, not only for the greater responsibility in economic policy making, but also for the extensive real reforms that we need to fix our broken political system.”

– Nick Clegg, Cowley Street Declaration.

Clegg Statement

“The ‘Clegg doctrine’ was shorthand for Nick Clegg’s election statement that in a hung parliament the first chance to form a government should go to the largest party in terms of seats and votes. There is no such constitutional convention… So we assumed that Clegg had misspoken or deliberately strengthened his anti-Labour position for the TV election debates, where he resisted every invitation to ‘agree with Gordon’ even where he plainly did so.”

Andrew Adonis, 2013. 5 Days in May.


Lord Ashdown: “The Conservatives do not have a mandate to ram their manifesto down this country’s throat, and I hope Mr Cameron understands that. It’s up to him to show that he can govern in the national interest, and not just in the interests of the Conservative Party.”

“My own view was that it was clear we had to start our negotiations with the Conservatives first, as we had promised to do, but I saw no reason to rule out other options until we had at least had a chance to explore them. Nor did it make much sense to weaken our bargaining position by indicating that there was only one party we could do business with.”

­– David Laws, 2010. 20 Days in May.


“Gordon’s first public step, taken shortly after 10a.m., was an official government statement that he had instructed the Cabinet Secretary ‘to arrange for civil servants to provide support for parties engaged in discussion’… This initial statement was briefed and reported as signifying that Gordon would not be resigning imminently. There was no immediate push back from the Tories. Indeed there was no word from the Conservatives at all. David Cameron we presumed, was holed up debating next steps, much as we were.”

– Andrew Adonis, 2013. 7 Days in May.

………ELLESMERE PORT – Labour HOLD……… OLDHAM EAST – Labour HOLD…….. BRENT CENTRAL – Liberal Democrat GAIN from Labour……..

“We lost Brent Central, ‘It’s over’ I thought. The Tories would just about inch ahead.”

– Edward Groves, Labour Activist.


David Dimbleby: “We can now make the following projection. With 29 seats still to declare, we predict that the Conservatives will be the largest party on 283 seats, with Labour on 282 and the Liberal Democrats on 57. Others on 28.”

Nick Robinson: “Its interesting to note that, even though Labour have just lost Brent Central to the Liberal Democrat’s Sarah Teather, their combined total of course remains constant. That total has just reached the bare 326 required for a majority.”

David Dimbleby: “So a Lab-Lib deal now very much a possibility…”

PROJECTION: Con 283, Lab 282, Lib Dem 57, Others 28

BREAKING NEWS: David Cameron to make statement at 2:30pm

“I met with Paddy Ashdown at 10 a.m. While he was naturally sympathetic towards our side, he emphasised the need for his party to explore its full range of options. Was leadership a problem I asked – Gordon and Nick had never had the best of personal chemistries? Paddy was insistent that it was policy that mattered most, and that it was policy that came first in any negotiations. The “numbers” worked, and it was vital that an agreement was reached on a genuinely joint programme of government – either with ourselves or with the Conservatives.”[3]

– Andrew Adonis, 2013. 7 Days in May.

“At first Nick was reluctant to let Paddy make contact with the Labour people. As he had stressed himself in his statement – the Conservatives , the largest party and the party with the most votes, had the first right to seek to form a government. Myself and Chris Huhne managed to persuade him otherwise. The parliamentary arithmetic was there for a deal with Labour as it was with the Conservatives. By being seen to make serious efforts with Labour we could wring even more concessions from David Cameron.”[4]

– David Laws, 2010. 20 Days in May.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: “I don’t think there’s any serious prospect of a coalition. A coalition has to have a joint programme, and I don’t think it sounds unreasonable to point out that the Liberal Democratic manifesto was if anything to the left of the Labour party – on disarmament, on taxation, on immigration.”

Lord David Steel: “I think its almost impossible to imagine that there could be a coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – their politics are too far apart.”

Jeremy Vine: “The Liberal Democrats have almost the best and worst of worlds. Neither of the major parties can make it over the 326 finish line by themselves… But with them so evenly balanced, both a Labour-Lib Dem or a Conservative-Lib Dem arrangement could yield a small majority. The Liberal Democrats have almost the total freedom to choose their coalition partner; but with that freedom comes great responsibility.”

Andrew Marr: “On voting reform, on taxation, on green issues, and especially on Europe – there are many policy areas in which coalition talks between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats could stumble.”


Boris Johnson: “Whatever types of Walls sausage is, is contrived by, er, by this great experiment – the dominant ingredient has got to be Conservatism – the meat in the sausage has got to be Conservative… There’ll be plenty of bread, and er, other bits and pieces.

Jeremy Paxman: “The question is whether it’s a chipolata or a Cumberland sausage I suppose?”

Boris Johnson: “Enough of this gastronomic metaphor.”

Jeremy Paxman: “You started it!”

Boris Johnson: “Well, I’ve had enough of it.”

 Boris sausage

Director of Compass: “We were tribalists during the election, now we have to become pluralists. The percentage vote shares for Labour plus the Liberal Democrats is greater than that for the Tories alone – there is the possibility here for a Centre-Left progressive alliance.”

Oona King: [discussing potential new Labour Party leaders] “It could be Alan Johnson, David Miliband, Jon Cruddass, Harriet Harman; any one of them could step forward, were a vacancy to arise.”


“I texted Danny shortly after noon: ‘Between us (pl protect) ask Nick how big an obstacle is GB for LDs.’ I talked to Gordon too. I said he had to be prepared to deal with Clegg’s pretty obvious wariness about him, and that in any case a coalition with him at the top might be difficult to sell.”

– Peter Mandelson, 2013. The Third Man.

…….HAMPSHIRE NORTH EAST – Conservative HOLD………….WARRICK & LEAMINGTON – Conservative GAIN from Labour…….. SAFFRON WALDEN – Conservative HOLD……… BETHNAL GREEN & BOW – Labour GAIN from Respect……. BERWICK UPON TWEED – Liberal Democrat HOLD………. KENILWORTH & SOUTHAM – Conservative HOLD………

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Clegg leaves Cowley Street


Rhoddri Morgan: “When we formed the first coalition in the Welsh assembly, we had advisors sent from New Zealand by Helen Clark. It was a complicated procedure, but I feel that we handled it very well.”

David Dimbleby: “Was it a painful process for you as a politician?”

Rhoddri Morgan: “Well, it took us two months and I ended up having a heart attack, but you know, apart from that… it was very stressful but we got there in the end.”




……….NORWICH NORTH – Conservative GAIN from Labour (HOLD since 2009 by-election)………… COPELAND – Labour HOLD…………. HUNTINGDON – Conservative HOLD………… SKIPTON & RIPON – Conservative HOLD…….

CON 275, LAB 274, LIB DEM 55, OTH 27

Nick Robinson: “Its pretty clear that David Cameron does not want a coalition, and even if he did he would not get agreement for one from his own party members.”

…….ARGYLL & BUTE – Liberal Democrat HOLD…….




BREAKING NEWS: Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make statement soon.

……..BROADLAND – Conservative HOLD………

CON 276, LAB 274, LIB DEM 56

………BLYTH VALLEY – Labour HOLD…………

Michael Howard: “It would be jolly nice of Gordon Brown could, just for once, show a little bit of grace and stop trying to cling by what remains of his fingernails to a tenure of Ten Downing Street.”

“I understand and completely respect the position of Mr Clegg in stating that he wishes first to make contact with the leader of the Conservative Party. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg should clearly be entitled to take as much time as they feel necessary… Clearly, should the discussions between Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg come to nothing, then I would of course be prepared to discuss with Mr Clegg the areas where there may be some measure of agreement between our two parties…”

– Gordon Brown’s statement from Downing Street.

Brown Statement

………..BUCKINGHAM – Conservative (Speaker) HOLD……….. HEXHAM – Conservative HOLD……… WANSBECK – Labour HOLD………

“It quickly became apparent however, that largest party or not, Nick Clegg was determined to speak first with the Conservatives. The “Clegg Doctrine” had thus been subtly amended, with the emphasis on the number of votes, not on seats.”

– Andrew Adonis, 2013. 7 Days in May.

………CHELTENHAM – Liberal Democrat HOLD…….. WESTMORLAND & LONSDALE – Liberal Democrat HOLD…….. PENRITH & THE BORDER – Conservative HOLD…….. HACKNEY NORTH – Labour HOLD……….


“I intend to make a big, open and comprehensive offer to the Liberal Democrats… There is a case for going further than an arrangement which simply keeps a minority Conservative government in office… I want us to work together in tackling our country’s big and urgent problems… I think we have a strong basis for a strong government.”

– From David Cameron’s statement.

CON 279, LAB 277, LIB DEM 58, OTH 27

9 still to declare.

James Delingpole: “I think it sounds to me like we’re going to pay a terrible price for David Cameron’s failure to win a working majority; it looks like our countryside is going to be carpeted with wind farms to appease all the greenies in the Lib Dems. I’m glad he’s decided he wants to keep the one really good Conservative policy in his manifesto, which is Michael Gove’s education reforms, and its good to see that the Liberal Democrats are sympathetic to that.”

……..FERMANAGH & SOUTH TYRONE – Sinn Fein HOLD…….. HACKNEY SOUTH – Labour HOLD…….. ST. IVES – Liberal Democrat HOLD…….. AMBER VALLEY – Labour HOLD[5]………

BREAKING NEWS: Conservatives and Labour tied 279-279 in seats

…………. MORECAMBE & LUNESDALE –Labour HOLD[6]……..

BREAKING  NEWS: Labour largest party


David Dimbleby: “So that brings us to the end of our election coverage. Only two seats remain – Devon West, and the election in Thirsk and Malton, delayed until the 27th. Barring any major upsets in those safe Conservative seats, the final result looks likely to be as follows; Labour the largest party – just – on 282, Conservatives on 281, Liberal Democrats on 59, Others 28.”

 Dimbleby election close

David Dimbleby: “It is a political scenario of immense complexity, and we’ll see whether these elected politicians really are able to come together and are up to the job.”

“As far as facts on the ground go, it was the final two dozen seats of the 2010 results which may have proven the final nail in the coffin for the Cameron project. Cheltenham, Morecambe, Lancaster, Westmoreland; all seats that should easily have been winnable, all seats the Conservatives failed to take.”

Alan Marshall, 2016. The Shire Revolt



“I’d slept, woken up, slept, woken up again, I think. Body clock was well and truly fucked. 282-281? The election lawyers in the hyper-marginals would be seeing pound signs when they closed their eyes that night. It was like something out of West Wing, only no-one would actually be looney enough to write something so implausible. Technically this could be taken to mean that Labour had won… good luck to whoever was tasked with spinning that line…”

– Edward Groves, Labour activist.


Lord Peter Mandelson: “We’ve now had four elections in a row from which we’ve emerged as the largest party – if nothing else that has to be seen as pretty impressive. Only two other governments in the past 200 years have been successful in winning a fourth term…”


“The Prime Minister’s call came through to Nick’s home in Putney at around 5pm, just an hour after discussions with David Cameron… Nick was not the only one who felt that Mr Brown’s negotiating style lacked a certain subtlety and charm. Peter Mandelson was listening in on the conversation and in his memoirs he diplomatically records that, ‘I was a little worried that Gordon might have come across a bit too heavily, telling Nick what he should think rather than asking him what he thought’. Indeed.”

–          David Laws, 2010. 20 Days in May.

“It had been civil and workmanlike. GB as the demandeur, doing the pushing. At a few points he talked over Clegg, ‘a bit like LBJ [the US President] on the tapes, holding the receiver close, exuding urgency, as GB always does on the phone’, as an aide put it. But there was no unpleasant, let alone angry exchanges. Those listening in No. 10 thought it had been a constructive first move.”[8]

– Andrew Adonis, 2013. 7 Days in May.

“Much that happened on the seventh of May did so in secret. Phone calls happened between Cameron and Clegg, and between Clegg and Brown, between Mandelson and Laws, and between Laws and Osborne. Adonis spoke to Ashdown, who spoke to Clegg. Very little was recorded formally, and we only have the partial (in both senses) recollections of participants to guide us. The first formal meeting was held in the evening, between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. Representing the Lib Dems were Chris Huhne, Danny Alexander, Andrew Stunell and David Laws. On the Conservative side were George Osborne, William Hague, Oliver Letwin and Ed Llewellyn.”

–          E.L. Jones, 2011. Coalition: The Week that Changed Britain.

“We had a few minutes before the talks were due to begin. Chris Huhne sent out an early signal of his serious intentions by settling down in an armchair and leafing through a huge volume containing photographs of the government art collection, which is available to decorate the offices of Secretaries of State and other ministers. This was planning for coalition government in earnest!”

-David Laws, 2010. 20 Days in May. 

“At the end of that long day Gordon took me aside. Tomorrow the big negotiations would begin. Gordon had already selected a team, and yet in his typical fashion he was having last minute doubts about their sincerity. Andrew and Peter were definitely onside – Andrew though conviction in the Lab-Lib project, Peter through strong desire to remain in government. Of Harriet and Ed [Balls] he was less sure. Harriet, for all her skills and convictions, had a tendency to rub people up the wrong way. And Ed at that point seemed to have more to gain from being in Opposition. Was he thinking of changing the teams? ‘Not yet’ came the terse reply, he just wanted to make sure that I was on side. From that point I was certain; no matter what it took, and against even David’s qualms, we would remain in Government.”

– Ed Miliband, 2020. Blue Labour.

To be continued…

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One Response to The Last Post: Chapter Four

  1. Nash says:

    (OTL = “our timeline”, i.e. real history as contrasting to this alternate history)

    4.1 – OTL Gordon was just as obsessive about “the numbers” – they remain a constant theme of discussion throughout Adonis’ 5 Days, even if Laws barely considers them a factor (beyond extra justification for a fait accompli). Here the situation is exacerbated by the closeness of the result.

    4.2 – Similar backbench discontent was apparent in OTL, and most of the excerpt from this (fictitious) source is based on reality. Becoming Prime Minister helped Cameron silence the malcontents, at least for a few years, before gay marriage and UKIP brought them out of the woodwork again. Here the day of reckoning may come sooner…

    4.3 – In OTL this meeting was cancelled by Ashdown shortly before 10, at the request of Nick Clegg. Here the changed result means all options are explored a little more sincerely…

    4.4 – …although Law’s retains his “most favoured” outcome.

    4.5 – Narrowly held by Judy Mallaber MP. In OTL won by Conservative Nigel Mills with a 536 vote majority.

    4.6 – Held by Geraldine Smith MP. In OTL won by Conservative David Morris by 866 votes

    4.7 – New candidate Clive Grunshaw holds this seat for Labour. In OTL he lost to Conservative Eric Ollerenshaw by just 333 votes, becoming Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner two years later.

    4.8 – Both these excerpts are actually unchanged. Since 2010 it has become apparent that there was a significant misrepresentation of this event by Lib Dem media briefers. While Gordon Brown evidently wasn’t the going to hit it off with Clegg in the same way Cameron did, neither was he the caricature Laws tries to portray.

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