The biggest U-turns in history

From Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng to tuition fees and John Obi Mikel, here is our list of the most significant U-turns in recent history.

Truss Kwartent U-Turn

We love to label things a U-turn. It’s the ultimate humiliation – a full 180-degree swing, forcing the turning party to go back on their principles, eat humble pie and accept they got it wrong. 

And it is a tough one, isn’t it? To renege on your beliefs when they face opposition, or to accept you got it wrong, you’ve listened, and you’ve seen it’s time to change tack? 

This morning, the government opted for the latter. Even in a world of constant U-turns, this was a biggun. Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng’s first month in Downing Street will be primarily remembered for it, one has to think, which is remarkable when you consider Queen Elizabeth II died at the beginning of their tenure. 

But we’ll come to the 45p tax rate later on. We start with the “undisputed king of the U-turn”.

Ted Heath

Now here was a Prime Minister who put modern politicians to shame. You could even argue today’s rethink of the mini-budget was Heath-esque, in that it’s not bit-part policies being walked back, but the flagship promises themselves. 

Ted Heath u-turn

Heath was elected in 1970 under a Tory manifesto that promised to cut public spending. The days of the government bailing out “lame ducks” – businesses that couldn’t pay their way without government assistance – were over. By 1972, however, Heath’s cabinet was increasing spending on health, education and welfare, and an Industry Act helping struggling businesses had been passed. These measures were taken with unemployment surpassing one million for the first time since 1947.

Nonetheless, the U-turns upset some of his fellow Conservatives, and after losing the election in 1974, Thatcher challenged Heath for the Tory leadership in early 1975. After outpolling him in the first round, Heath resigned, choosing not to contest further. Thatcherism came to be.

Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Bill Clinton did, in fact, have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, and he had to admit it in a national address from the White House just months later.

John Obi Mikel

Change of pace, but it’s infamous, this one. John Obi Mikel’s transfer from Lyn Oslo to Chelsea was bizarre and controversial, with Manchester United also thinking they had signed him.

ohn obi mikel man u chelsea u turn (Image Credit Daily Mail)

Image Credit: Daily Mail

The Nigerian midfielder was just 18 at the time Manchester United announced that they had agreed on a deal to sign him. The players’ agents were reportedly not part of that deal. Chelsea then claimed that they had an agreement with John Obi-Mikel’s agents, and they had paid for his education in Norway, helping him gain a European work permit. It even went so far as John Obi Mikel being unveiled as a United player in a press conference, where he said how delighted he was to have signed for the club, but shortly afterwards, he disappeared. 

Mikel was reportedly taken to London by his agent, John Shittu, and he then stated on SkySports that he was pressured into signing for Manchester United and did not want to join. Governing body FIFA stepped in; ruling Mikel had to return to Lyn to see out his contract while the deal with United was reviewed. Chelsea decided to make a deal with Lyn and United themselves, in which they paid United £12 million and Lyn £4 million. 

The saga was over. John Obi Mikel became a Chelsea player and went on to represent the west London club over 350 times. 

Tuition Fees

The things we’ll do for our friends. Ahead of the 2010 election, the Nick Clegg-led-Liberal Democrats made it clear they opposed the suspected rise in tuition fees. Clegg went so far as to say: “We want to abolish tuition fees. We think they’re wrong,” in April 2010. 

cameron clegg u-turn

And then, after they were elected to a coalition government with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems voted to nearly triple tuition fees to £9,000. 

Covid-19 Hand Shaking

It was just weeks between Boris’ vow to continue shaking hands and the then Prime Minister fighting for his life with Covid-19. 

I suppose we can mark this one down to Boris’ enduring optimism..?

You can see Patrick Vallance next to him, squirming. In the end, Boris recognised the gravity of coronavirus and promptly stopped advocating for everyone to keep shaking hands.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Eat Out to Help Out

Admittedly, this could have gone in the Covid-19 section, but it’s just got such a good ring to it. 

u-turn eat out to help out

Rishi Sunak’s inspired plan to get people back into restaurants and pubs unravelled spectacularly when, just weeks later, those businesses were forced to close their doors amid a surge in Covid cases. 

The Ultimate U-turn

Absolutely mental what this driver pulled off on a narrow road, above a cliff’s edge. 

We all know how frustrating taking the wrong turn is, but some detours are worth it. Racking up tens of millions of views online, this U-turn is now up there with the world’s most famous manoeuvers.  

Truss, Kwarteng and the 45p Tax Rate

What can you say? Just remarkable. Only ten days after the mini-budget that sent the pound plummeting, Prime Minister Liz Truss and Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng are un-scrapping the 45p tax rate, paid by those earning over £150,000. 

Truss Kwartent U-Turn

This U-turn may well be a case of too little, too late for both of their political careers, but it might stem the tide of no-confidence letters already rumoured to be submitted just a month into the Truss premiership. 

Kwarteng says he isn’t quitting, and Truss says she’s not firing him, but then again, just yesterday, they both said they were fully committed to scrapping the 45p rate. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

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