So much in politics relies on a narrative of inevitability. Consider these ones that crowd the intellectual landscape at the moment:
- Just one look at David Cameron, one blink as it were, and you knew he had 'what it takes' to be Prime Minister.
- Gordon Brown (above) was a terrible Prime Minister.
- Labour ran out of money and bankrupted the country.
- It was inevitable that the right-wing press would eventually turn on Labour when they moved slightly Leftwards.
So in the end a Labour General Election defeat was 'inevitable'. Hence the present coalition and all its works.
David Cameron was in deep trouble in 2007, and only Gordon Brown's vacillation allowed him to escape from his manifold problems. Gordon Brown was not as hated as many people make out - though it's hard to peer through the data sometimes. Labour didn't 'run out of money', as any decent economic historian will tell you. And a small group of News International Executives overcame Rupert Murdoch's initial scepticism about David Cameron and secured The Sun's and The Times' backing for the Conservatives.
Change any of these variables and a Labour win in 2010 was highly possible.
So was there a Labour route to victory in 2010? Yes. But what would they have needed?
The answer is: just a one per cent or so further swing swing back from their terrible poll lows in 2008-2009. Holding on to seats like Kingswood, Thurrock, City of Lincoln and Leicestershire North West - mostly lost on huge swings. Clinging on to just a few more seats - say the 15 within a few thousand votes of their grasp - would have meant that they, the Liberal Democrats, the SDLP and the Northern Ireland Alliance (the SDLP takes the Labour Whip and the Alliance MP is 'affiliated' to the Lib Dems) would have had 334 seats.
If we exclude the Sinn Fein MPs who don't take up their seats, that's a working majority over all other parties of 23.
Think the Lib Dems would have formed a government with the Conservatives on these numbers? No, me neither. So everything has hung on a tiny thread - just a few votes in a few seats.
And the lesson? Nothing's inevitable in politics. Or history.