For those of you who enjoyed Alex Macpherson's counterfactual about what might have happened if I had been elected MP for Bracknell, he has now turned his attention to my For the Many podcast partner, Jacqui Smith.
‘He died whilst enjoying one of his great passions in life’ the Queen wistfully said in her broadcast to the Nation following the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in late March 2009. The Duke had been carriage riding in Great Windsor Park when he had taken a corner too tightly, topping the fast moving vehicle and suffering a heart attack as he fell to the ground.
The country was shocked at this sudden and unexpected death, despite Philip being close to 90 years old. The coverage was perhaps not on a scale of Princess Diana’s death just over 10 years previously but it certainly became the focus for most of the next week until the funeral in Westminster Abbey.
On 29th March, the Sunday Times had planned to have a front page expose on the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s expenses, and how her husband had claimed for pay-per-view films. Jacqui had first received news of what the paper was planning late on Friday, and had spent most of Saturday trying to establish the facts and then shore up her position.
Only when her son James came into the family kitchen at 4.30pm on the Saturday to say that it has been announced that Prince Philip had died did Jacqui stop drafting her resignation statement.
By the time that the Duke’s death, and subsequent discussion on the role of Prince Charles becoming effectively a co-Regent had moved off the front pages, the Damian McBride scandal had broken. The Daily Telegraph were reporting one of Prime Minster Gordon Brown’s key advisors, Damian McBride had been involved in planning a blog ‘Red Rag’ that would post rumours, some invented, about senior members of the Conservative Party and their families.
During a short Easter break at their caravan near Barmouth in North Wales, Jacqui told her husband that they had dodged a bullet and she was treating this as a second chance in her political career. The next General Election was a year away and Jacqui had work hard to save her seat.
Back in 1997, Jacqui was one of the 100 ‘Blair Babes’ elected in the landslide that year for the seat of Redditch in Worcestershire. Although effectively a new seat in 1997, it was constructed from Mid Worcestershire so was an impressive 1997 gain from the Conservatives with a majority just over 6,000. This had narrowed considerably, although Jacqui had managed to stabilise a lead of 2,700 votes over long term opponent, Karen Lumley. Karen had stood for Redditch for the Conservatives in 2001 and 2005 and would be doing so again in 2010.
With the opinion polls showing a swing to the Tories since 2005, and some boundary changes that added the villages of Hanbury and the Lenches to the county constituency, Jacqui knew it would be struggle to hold her seat. In strategy discussions with her team, she developed a series of activities that would secure her 45% share of the vote and prevent anything more than a 3% swing.
Understanding that the constant knocking on doors and ‘Stay In Touch’ leaflets were important, Jacqui needed more to shore up the Labour vote. When the campaign kicked off properly, she phoned her old mentor for advice, and one request. Jacqui thought that Tony Blair was the most gifted politician of his generation, and despite his support of the invasion of Iraq, was still popular in certain sections of the electorate.
Tony was very clear in his advice: if Jacqui was to survive the blue tide that would inevitably wash her away, she had to make the campaign all about her, her record, the champion of Redditch and the Midlands area. He said that she had to become almost like a Liberal Democrat MP where people from all persuasions voted for them despite the party not representing them.
Being appreciative of the advice, Jacqui had a request for Tony: would he visit Redditch and make a campaign appearance and speech? Tony was reluctant as he warned that Gordon would not like it. ‘Bugger Gordon’ fired back Jacqui in a forthright manner with the passion that Tony had always liked.
A week before the election, Tony visited Redditch – there was a scheduled walk about the town centre, where Blair was generally welcomed warmly. A group of Conservative activists started following them with placards and shouting ‘Blair Out!’ – Jacqui was tempted to tell them to ‘F*** off’ as she had done to a potential voter in her first election campaign (but with television cameras present), she reflected that it would not be best course of action.
Following this, there were visits to a Sure Start centre, a newly opened Secondary school and also a very public, filmed stroll with ‘Bobbies on the Beat’. One theme that came up throughout Redditch was anti-social behaviour and Jacqui wanted to be clear, as Home Secretary, she was committed to law and order.
In a heavily trailed speech to Labour activists in the Palace Theatre in Redditch, Tony Blair delivered a vintage performance that matched some of his best oratory. He outlined the New Labour journey and how they had transformed Britain into an open and progressive country – it was like he was campaigning for election all over again.
Jacqui was delighted when the speech was covered on the 10 o’clock news and it gave her campaign team a real lift. In the car afterwards, she asked Tony how he felt the day had gone; after a reflective moment he said, ‘Y’know Jacqui, it’s going to be difficult but not impossible’. He did tell her that if she was re-elected that maybe she should think about a different seat next time around. Demographics in Redditch were moving against Labour, and rejuvenated opposition were always within striking distance in a bell-weather seat like Redditch.
On Election Day, 7th May 2010, Jacqui’s team worked relentlessly on the Get the Vote Out operation. However, she could see in people’s expressions that they thought she was going to lose. At 4.25am, the Returning Officer assembled the candidates on the stage, and with a high profile cabinet minister in risk of losing her seat, the TV cameras were present. David Dimbleby interrupted his interview with William Hague to announce that they were going to Redditch where “Jacqui Smith’s result is coming now and we think she is in trouble”.
This phrase had summarized the last 3 hours. The Returning Office had indicated to Jacqui and Karen Lumley that the result was very tight early on and to think about potential recounts. The indications from the vote piles mounting in front of the tellers had been misleading; some wards that were fertile Tory areas saw Labour votes melting away, but the Labour holding firm in in the usual strongholds.
When the result came, exhaustion had removed any emotion taletale signs that the BBC West Midlands Political Editor, Patrick Burns could use to derive the final result. The first vote tally announced was the Liberal Democrat, Nicholas Lane who barely managed to increase the 2005 total, and got just under 6,000 votes – this gave Jacqui hope that she had managed to squeeze their vote even when Cleggmania had seem to take hold. Next the Conservative challenger, Lumley’s votes was announced – Burns quiety said that she needed to be looking for 18,000 votes – when the number started with 17, the Returning Officer was interrupted by cheering from both Tory and Labour factions. It was looking tight. Lumley had achieved 17,214 votes – up on 2005 but still just below Jacqui’s vote then. After the restoration of calm, Jacqui’s tally was all that was waiting, again starting with a 17, Burns wondering if she had enough to cling on.
With a slightly reduced vote of 17,367 Jacqui had held on to Redditch by the skin of her teeth – a majority of 153. In her acceptance speech, she thanked all the officials in a well trotted format as well as her campaign team and family. After walking around the hall and shedding a few tears as the physical and emotional strain took its toll, Jacqui and her husband Richard emerged into the bright sunlight. On her first victory in 1997, after the count, she and Richard had gone to the Strensham Services for a celebratory breakfast – now she just wanted to go home.
Holding her tea, she felt her mobile phone vibrate as it has been doing for the last hour with messages of congratulations. This one was from someone to whom she had probably owed her victory. Tony said that he was relieved that she was back in the Commons but this was that last time she could fight Redditch. Nationally the picture was looking less rosy for Labour. The Conservatives were clearly the largest party but short of a majority. Jacqui saw the pictures as Gordon Brown’s plane landed at Stansted from his count up in Fife. She pondered if he had saved votes for Labour or cost them dearly. What if she had joined the ‘snow plot’ earlier in the year when Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt had tried to lead a putsch to get rid of Brown. It had been clear if she and Alistair Darling had agreed to Jack Straw’s pleading over a long lunch at the Cinnamon Club, Brown would have been gone.
Following the election result, it was clear that Labour would not remain in office. The rainbow coalition that would have had to be formed, in Jacqui’s words, would have stretched a rainbow in the number of colours. There was a discussion around changing the leader, and therefore Prime Minister, but it was never going to get off the launchpad.
Jacqui had never been in Opposition before and was not looking forward to this one bit. It was not just that Opposition meant a long slog of endless motions and protest, but you could not change anything and that was her whole purpose for coming into politics. Getting rid of Gordon was at least assured now, and as soon as David Cameron arrived in Downing Street, he resigned as Labour Leader with immediate effect.
The contest would therefore open immediately, and although the close of nominations was originally scheduled for the end of May, this was pushed into June as some of the candidates wanted more time to garner the required nominations. After the MPs were sworn in, there was also a considerable gap until the State Opening of Parliament – after the half-term break. This gave Jacqui an opportunity to have a short break and consider her options. She would definitely be someone who could credibly run, although she had not built up that base to drive her campaign forward – holding Redditch had taken all her energies.
A chance conversation with Alistair Darling, the outgoing Chancellor, had brought about a surprise invitation. Alistair said that he and his wife Maggie were going to their croft on the Isle of Lewis for 10 days to decompress. The last few years of the financial crisis had been dreadful on Alistair, and if he hadn't had white hair before it started, he certainly would have done by now. His mother was from Lewis and he loved the tranquility there, and asked Jacqui if she and Richard would like to join them for a few days.
Scotland was somewhere that Jacqui had naturally visited in an official capacity many times but she had never been as a tourist. Sitting next to Douglas Alexander in cabinet, he had tried to persuade her to visit Scotland and even offered to create an itinerary – this was in between their giggling sessions, the most memorable being driven Douglas pointing out that the Downing Street cat had done a huge 'poo' under the sideboard in the Cabinet Room. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, even asked Gordon if they should be separated, and said to Jacqui that he would suggest putting her between Lord Mandelson and Shaun Woodward, the standoffish Northern Ireland Secretary. Just his little joke.
Flying to Glasgow and then hiring a car, Jacqui and Richard took the long route through the Western Highlands to get to the ferry port at Uig. Jacqui could not stop herself from visiting another of the physical landmarks of the New Labour epoque – just over an hour from Glasgow was the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. It was in the car park of the restaurant at the end of the fertile sea-loch that Gordon Brown and John Prescott had met to scheme a post-Blair Labour Party on their way to the memorial service for John Smith in 1994.
Jacqui could not help but perform her Gordon impression in a deep, growly Scottish accent: ‘Thank you for everything that you do’, and wondered why the New Labour plotting always occurred in restaurants, referring to the original Blair-Brown pact in the Granita restaurant, also in 1994.
After several days of travelling through some of the most beautiful and remote country, they arrived in the early evening at Alistair’s house at Bernera, a hamlet on the west side of Lewis looking out on a raging North Atlantic Ocean. Alistair suggested a short walk to blow away the cobwebs off the journey, although Jacqui felt that the ferry crossing to Stornaway had already achieved that. Being hardened to ferry sailings through her summer jobs on cross-channel ferries as a student, the Minch had proved much more of a challenge than the becalmed English Channel.
Alistair’s wife, Maggie had prepared a most wonderful evening meal that they devoured with much conviviality, the odd glass or three of red wine, and later some Islay Malt. There was much laughter, and occasional sadness, as the conversation flowed across a range of subjects. As Jacqui helped Maggie clear up, she gathered the bag of empty bottles and said that they could give the ‘Prosecco Sisters’ a run for their money – referring to her long-time friends Caroline Flint and Hazel Blears!
The next day, the cobwebs definitely needed to be dusted away as the four of them began to dress for the Highland weather. Jacqui closely watched to see how many layers of jumpers and coats that Maggie put on and copied her without further thought. On the long walk across to Callanish, Alistair and Jacqui discussed the leadership more fully; Alistair made it clear that he had no interest in the leadership or even a shadow cabinet position. The last three years had been gruelling, and ever since that fateful Sunday morning just before Christmas 2008 when Sir Fred Goodwin, the CEO of RBS, had visited him at his Edinburgh home on the pretext of delivering a Christmas Panettone, only to inform him within 5 minutes that RBS had no money, Alistair had never had any escape apart from here.
Jacqui mused with Alistair if she should stand; he thought she was a credible candidate and meant it, genuinely demolishing many of the other pretenders in the process. He had concerns that she had not developed a base of support in the party, that group of people who would be her standard bearers. He was also concerned that if she stood, and David Miliband who had already confirmed, she could this split the New Labour vote in the party. Although the leadership was decided on a Single Transferable Vote mechanism, two Blairite candidates could allow the momentum of another overtake them.
As they warmly embraced the Darlings and departed Lewis, Jacqui was clear in her own mind that she would not stand and would support David Miliband for the leadership. However, she was determined to use this backing to achieve something in return.
Back in Westminster, the leadership contest was gaining traction, mainly driven by the fact that Ed Miliband had decided to stand against his brother. It certainly gave a biblical edge to the contest, and David was clearly upset by a sense of familial betrayal.
One of the surprising entrants was Diane Abbott, a far-left veteran MP, who was someone that Jacqui did not much time for, but as a female, ethnic minority candidate, she felt that she deserved some sisterly support. She mused on the day that as Chief Whip she had hauled her into her office for a telling off after yet another vote against the Blair government and ended up telling to 'fuck off out of my office'.
Jacqui was an open cheerleader for David, campaigning across the media, writing op-ed articles and attending endless constituency hustings. In a way, Jacqui was not the ideal campaigner that David required: she was on the same wing of the party and pure Blairite. David required, in his words, ‘a Carlsberg campaigner’ – someone who could reach parts of the Labour Party that Jacqui could not reach!
Ed Miliband was definitely tacking to the left with his policies, although his hinterland was definitely on that side of the Party. He was also gaining momentum with the Unions who were still powerful with the electoral college. Jacqui was asked to woo the MEPs, Peers and also southern England constituencies. This made her realise that she had to broaden her appeal outside the Blairite wing of the party if she was to be successful in the future.
When the results were announced, there was a mixture of shock and relief for the older Miliband’s campaign team. He had won and was now Leader of the Labour Party and HM Leader of the Opposition – but only just. As counting has progressed, David’s lead diminished gradually, and the position on the party spectrum of the candidate eliminated determined how much the gap shortened. David had been beaten his brother 50.7% to Ed’s 49.3% - the Cain and Abel narrative would continue. It was the conversion of two MPs right at the last minute that had just swung it for him.
David hit the ground running, and immediately started appointing his Shadow Cabinet – Osborne’s first budget was in weeks, so the first position to fill was Shadow Chancellor. Clearly Ed Balls was in prime position for the job – Gordon had tried to sack Darling and replace him with Ed but failed. Miliband thought that Balls was too tainted by his decades long association with Gordon. Looking at other candidates, there was Yvette Cooper who was intellectually equipped for the job but being married to Balls, this carried additional baggage – what was it with families in the Labour Party, Miliband moaned to his Chief of Staff Dan Jarvis.
David liked the idea of a female candidate for the role – a first for either of the big two parties. In order to get backing for a key position, he thought that he would ask his deputy Harriet Harman. Harriet was lukewarm and suggested Alan Johnson. David was quietly horrified at this suggestion. He liked Alan but he was not an Oxford man. Enjoying the thought of dismissing Harriet, he told her firmly that he was going to appoint Jacqui Smith as Jarvis put his head round the door of David’s Commons office to say that Jacqui had arrived.
As Jacqui had predicted to herself, the first few years of Opposition were difficult, but the economic situation had provided her with at least a position to oppose. The new Coalition had to cut spending dramatically, and although the broad sweep of their tax and spending proposals fitted with those put forward by Darling, there were clear areas of difference. The ‘Omnishambles’ budget of 2012 was a disaster for Osborne with taxes on pasties and caravans that all had to be reversed, and Jacqui was building a formidable shadow Treasury team with Rachel Reeves and Chris Leslie.
The economic growth that the Coalition had hoped would be the reward for their policies was strangled at birth by the Eurozone Crisis – heavily indebted Southern European countries were finding it difficult to borrow money on the markets, leading to a series of bailouts from the European Central Bank, IMF and EU – the troika. This was leading to dreadful scenes on the streets on Athens and there seemed to a contagion to other Club Med nations such as Spain and Italy. This was an area of weakness for Jacqui as an ardent EU supporter and been vocal on Euro membership ‘when the time was correct and proper’. However, Osborne carefully crafted the way he quoted Jacqui in his 2012 Autumn Statement to show her as a Europhile “with an addiction to spending other people’s money with other people’s currency” – it was a blistered attack by Osborne.
Jacqui also had to take some attacks with her own party – Ed Balls was never reconciled to missing out on the Shadow Chancellor position and spent most of time in Heath-like sulk. Things came to a head in Shadow Cabinet when Balls made an oblique attack on a position that Jacqui had taken on limiting Child Benefit to two children. The situation spiralled quickly as Ed claimed that they required a Shadow Chancellor with a deep understanding of economic theory. Jacqui responded that her Oxford PPE degree was as good as his, and she had much more effective communication skills that someone who ‘uses smart phrases that no bugger can understand’. This was a reference to the quote Balls wrote for Gordon Brown in opposition about “post neo-classical endogenous growth theory”.
In a Heseltinian like flounce, Ed folded his papers stood up and walked out, saying he was done with this. All eyes moved to his wife, Yvette Cooper – would she leave or stay? David called a short break, and Jacqui immediately approached Yvette and said she would not apologise for what happened but was sorry that things had got so heated. Yvette smiled and told her that she should be the one apologising and gave Jacqui a hug.
By later that evening, Ed had issued a statement that he was resigning from the Shadow Cabinet and would be leaving politics. In later years he was to follow in the footsteps of Michael Portillo from being a partisan political figure to a well-loved media personality – he even appeared on the BBC show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, something that Jacqui would have loved to do, but life had taken a different turn.
In late 2013, Jacqui interestingly received a lunch offer from Joan Ruddock, a now veteran MP who had previously been the leader of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the 1980s. Jacqui had known from her increasing involvement in the Labour Women’s Network so was intrigued at the request. Joan was coming up to her 70th birthday just after Christmas and had decided that she would stand down at the next General Election. The concerns over Jacqui’s ability to hold Redditch were well known throughout the party and recent local election results, showing a 5% swing to the Conservatives, had only increased this constant concern in Jacqui’s mind.
Joan asked Jacqui if she would be interested in running in the candidate adoption – there had been rumours of an all-female shortlist for the constituency, a mechanism that the Labour Party had implemented, of which Jacqui was very proud. Joan’s seat of Lewisham Deptford was one of Labour’s safest in the capital and the majority at the last 2010 Election was over 12,000. Before Joan left Jacqui, she even remarked that Jacqui was originally from London so she was only coming home!
After several weeks of considering the offer, Jacqui took counsel from her closest political friends. Caroline Flint as a Londoner was delighted, but she understood how torn Jacqui was, having herself made her home in Don Valley. The last call was to Tony; she knew what he would say but confirmation was important. ‘Look Jacqui what I told you back in May 2010, is just as true now, if not more. You have so much to give to politics and losing your seat will be a disaster’. Phoning her Redditch party chair before signing the Deptford nomination forms was one of the hardest calls Jacqui had ever had to make. After a rigorous selection process, Jacqui duly became the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Lewisham Deptford. A text that night from Tony Blair said ‘Right thing to have done – took courage’.
It seemed no sooner that one hurdle was jumped that the 2015 Election was on Jacqui. As the Shadow Chancellor, she was on national TV most days, taking part in radio or TV interviews and debates. This seemed one of the difficult elections to call – the Coalition had not received the economic growth hoped for, and slow wages growth combined with high cost of living were toxic for them. This made the economic portfolio so crucial for Labour’s chances that Jacqui took some bold steps. She submitted all Labour’s economic proposals in the form of a costed Budget to the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to review. When the OBR Director, Robert Chote presented his response, there was delight amongst the shadow Treasury team.
Election night brought huge tension, although without the usual tension of wondering whether she would lose her seat. Jacqui had concerns that Cameron and Miliband were very similar in the minds of most of the public, or ‘choosing between two posh boys’ as the LBC radio presenter Iain Dale remarked when interviewing Jacqui. From early on, it is clear that the Tories and Lib Dems were haemorrhaging votes and seats but in a hugely unexpected turn. Labour were doing the same to the SNP in Scotland.
By 3am, Labour were up by 20 seats overall but this was the combination of 40 gains and 20 losses. It was soon visible to all that Labour were the biggest party but well short of 300 let alone an overall majority. The Lib Dems had been smashed and were down to seven seats. In a call with Miliband’s inner circle as he flew down from South Shields after his count, it was only the SNP that could provide the votes to govern without the instability of a (very) minority Government.
The SNP’s new leader, Nicola Sturgeon also flew down to London to lead negotiations herself with the Labour team lead by Jacqui. Sturgeon was a bit of an enigma to Jacqui – strong, capable but very chippy and always seemed to have a grievance. What would the key demands of the SNP be? The Independence Referendum had been lost less than a year ago so it would be difficult to ask for another one. Money would obviously be top of their agenda but the Barnett formula was already generous to Scotland and any sign of Danegeld would be demanded by Wales and Northern Ireland, with perhaps greater justification.
On their first meeting, held in the Cabinet Office with the support of the civil service machine, Jacqui found Sturgeon very pleasant and different from her public persona. Her demands focused on additional powers for Scotland, the so called Demo Max option, more money in rebate, a timeline to close Faslane Nuclear Submarine base within 15 years and the option to hold an Independence Referendum in 2020. After the first round of negotiations, Jacqui turned to one of the Labour team, Rachel Reeves and sighed that she was glad Sturgeon didn’t want her left kidney as well!
It was clear that only a confidence and supply arrangement that was on the table; it would have been impossible to have a SNP Education Minister controlling English education but unable to do anything in their own country: the West Lothian Question writ large.
After 4 days of trench warfare, David Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon gave a press conference where they confirmed a deal had been struck; Jacqui and Joanna Cherry smiling as chief negotiators. Within the hour David Cameron exited Downing Street with his family, and David and Louise Miliband were on the way to the Palace. Later that afternoon, Jacqui arrived at the Treasury with huge media interest as she had just become the first female Chancellor. She was warmly welcomed on the vast steps by the Permanent Secretary, Nick Macpherson.
As the Labour cabinet met the next morning, David was very kind in his thanks ‘for all her work in getting our Scottish friends on board’, and to finally have a female Chancellor. The cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood could not help but interrupt: ‘And also a member of Hertford’ referring to them both having been at the same Oxford College.
The honeymoon was short and soon the daily grind of red boxes took their toll; Opposition may have been frustrating, but Jacqui had forgotten about the nightly weight of those red boxes. One of the manifesto commitments that Jacqui had fought tooth and nail against was the commitment to hold an In/Out Referendum on membership of the European Union. David Cameron had promised this in his Bloomberg speech in January 2013, and Miliband thought that he had to match the promise. Jacqui had argued passionately against it in Shadow Cabinet – it left them at the mercy of events and also mid-term unpopularity could be used to punish the Government.
This had not been helped by the ejection of Greece from the Euro Single Currency in 2013. This had led to hyper-inflation and aid agencies flying in emergency food and medicine. At the G7 summit in Montreal in September, US President Obama lectured the Europeans that if this was how they treated their own, how could the world possibly look up to them. Greece was pushed out of the EU at the same time as leaving the Euro but was rapidly re-instated after global outrage and the imposition of sanctions against the EU by many countries.
After this, the EU was seen negatively in the UK, and as a member outside of the Eurozone, the general view was that the EU would happily do the same to the UK. Jacqui had also knew that Labour supporters in the North of England were even less disposed to the EU. In order to widen her appeal within the party, Jacqui had visited many northern seats, the so-called Red Wall. She came away with a feeling that support was lukewarm at best, outright hostile at worst. Having attended a constituency event for her friend, Sue Hayman recently elected for Workington in Cumbria, they had dinner at Sue’s home afterwards. Jacqui said that she thought the members were sceptical of the EU. Before she finished Sue turned and said ‘They hate them Jacqui, and they are positive ones’.
On the train home, Jacqui realised that this would an uphill struggle – the Referendum was called for 6th May 2017 – two years into a new Government whic had had to take tough decisions. David was now finding government hard, and with an almost Conservative opposition united in campaigning for Leave, it became even harder. As if things could not get worse, David made the snap decision to invite the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker to the UK to campaign for a day.
It all started well with some photo opportunities at No 10 and then at several projects funded by the European Union. There was a huge media following throughout the day, and this was to be followed by a Question and Answer with Jean-Claude and David in front of a public audience hosted by Kirsty Wark. A day that could have been regarded as a success turned from farce to disaster: Jean-Claude came on stage and effusively kissed Kirsty three times on the cheek. It was quite clear that he was the worse for wear, and he slurred his way through the interview, frequently confusing David with Mark Rutte, the urbane Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
It was all over from that point – the British media had a field day and even supportive papers such as The Guardian found it difficult to find the positives. Jacqui prepared for the worst which came swiftly on the night of the Referendum – the UK was out by a majority of 55-45. It was impossible for David to carry on – he had been the figure of the campaign and he had not even tried to re-negotiate some of the terms of EU membership.
At an emergency cabinet meeting at 8am the next morning, David indicated he was going to resign and trigger a Labour leadership contest. Jacqui had been at the Treasury all night, rushing from issuing a joint statement with the Governor of the Bank of England, Ben Bernanke, the formerly Chair of US Federal Reserve who Jacqui had managed to persuade out of retirement. They were busy shoring up the Pound which was taking a beating and already down 20%.
Under the Labour Party rules if a leader resigns whilst the party is in Government, a special Party Conference could require a membership election with the Unions heavily represented. However, if David was to make himself ‘permanently unavailable’ then the decision process would revert to the NEC. After consultations with Sir Jeremy Heywood and the Palace, it was confirmed that David could remain as Prime Minister if permanently unavailable as Labour Leader.
David informed the cabinet that the NEC would meet to select a new leader, and it was intended that a new Prime Minister would be installed first thing on Monday. Provisionally, the NEC had decided that any nomination had to have 15% of the Parliamentary Party – 43 MPs based on current profile.
David asked for a swift resolution to this crisis and asked if anyone wanted to speak. First up was the Transport Secretary, John McDonnell, the far-left MP; he was standing and felt that he had the support across the party. Jacqui shared a glance with the Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn who rolled his eyes.
Next to reveal his position was Chuka Umunna, the ambitious young Business Secretary who said that he was confident of gaining widespread backing. There was an outburst of laughter as Alan Johnson remarked that they both could not be right!
In these contests, momentum is everything and in this compressed contest, time was off the essence. Jacqui could not afford to stand back and indicated that she was intending to stand. She did not claim huge support across the party with the hubris of the other two contenders but laid out a manifesto for the country over next few years.
The day was fast moving, and Jacqui quickly built a campaign team headed by a departmental colleague, Vernon Coaker. It was evident that McDonnell could not pass the nomination barrier as his cheerleader, Jeremy Corbyn approached MPs that were on different wings of the Party. When Margaret Beckett was approached to sign the nominations papers by Corbyn to ensure that there was a candidate from the left of the party, she dismissed him and asked if he thought that she was a moron.
The pressure mounted as the weekend dawned, Jacqui had the sufficient nominations and was gaining endorsements across the Labour Party, moderate Unions and Constituencies. Chuka had support but Jacqui was receiving reports that he was buckling under the scrutiny; to be a mid-ranking cabinet minister is one thing, but PM is completely different.
Late on Saturday afternoon, the Chief Whip, Nick Brown phoned Jacqui and asked if he could speak privately with her. She moved into an office away from the buzz of her team. Nick said that Chuka was pulling out of the contest, and as the 5pm deadline for nominations had just passed, Jacqui was the only candidate and she would be confirmed as Labour leader the next day. She knew exactly what this meant.
Her first call was to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council. He had heard the unofficial news and congratulated her but Jacqui almost snapped back ‘Donald, I need a full European Council meeting this week to discuss how we can reverse this dreadful mistake’…