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"Stop the War" by Steve Payne

Author says: what if Great Britain was dragged into the War on Terror kicking and screaming? Please note that the opinions expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).

July 17: on this day in 2001 in Committee Room Fourteen at the Palace of Westminister, backbenchers learnt the results of the first round of the Tory Leadership ballot.

The grassroots of the party favoured Iain Duncan Smith, a retired British Army Captain of the Scots Guard Regiment. Trouble was the party members in the country only got to choose between two candidates in the final round. And due to the casting of a single ballot by just one member of parliament, Smith had been edged into third place by Michael Portillo, 54 votes to 53. Portillo himself would be defeated by Middle England's favourite jazz fan, Ken Clarke; it would be the first time a populist politician had occupied the Tory leadership in three decades.

"The two policies that Ken Clarke is most famous for are his opposition to the Iraq war and being a very defensible and quite courageous pro-European." ~ Vince Cable

Clarke officially became the leader of Her Majesty's Opposition on 18th September 2001, exactly one week after the attack on the World Trade Centre. And seeking to justify British participation in the war on terror across the chamber of the House of Commons, Prime Minister Tony Blair would have to face down a cigar-smoking, suede-shoe-wearing pacifist. The rather different figure cut by Smith, a bolt upright former soldier who had seen service from Rhodesia to Northern Ireland would be consigned to the backbenches, where his bipartisan support for the government would be drowned out by Clarke's bold, outspoken leadership. Because Clarke would soon appear in public with another outspoken critic of US-UK belligerency, French President Jacques Chirac as well as joining the "Stop the War" march in February 2003 (still finding time to sneak off with playwright Haold Pinter for a pint and a smoke).

The "Stop the War" party were unaware that Britain was under no obligation to pay a "blood price". Books written by the journalist Bob Woodward would later reveal that Blair was repeatedly told by Bush that he did not have to commit troops. And due to the public outcry fuelled by Clarke, Iraq would follow the model of Vietnam, were Britain supported the United States but took no active part in the hostilities.

Needless to say, Prime Ministerial credibility was utterly destroyed by the whole miserable affair, and "Bliar" would be roundly defeated in the general election on 5th May 2005. But two months later on 7th July, a series of coordinated suicide attack struck London's public transport system. Fifty-six people were killed, including the bombers, and around 700 were injured. And the British people discovered that democratic processes, even idiosyncratic ones, were one thing, but the hand of destiny was quite another. Votes could not stop the war. And as Blair had accurately predicted, the war on terror had come to Britain after all.

Author says whilst the outcome is rather different, this article is largely based on original content by Dominic Sandbrook in his ingenius article "What if Ken Clarke had led the Tories" published in the New Statesman Magazine on 17th December 2009.

Steve Payne

Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.


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