The General Election in May saw Labour’s expectations dashed and a “surprise” last minute swing to the Tories, with a majority beyond their supposed calculations. It has happened like this before; in 1959, in 1970, in 1992, and going back before our lifetimes in 1924.
In 1924 Labour had been in office as a minority government and whilst we didn’t expect anything like a majority, the Tory lead of 268 seats was not what had been planned. In 1959 we had led in a number of polls but lost by 100 seats. In 1970 all expectations were that Wilson would earn a further turn of office, only to hand over to the little considered Ted Heath and in 1992 Major won a clear majority only a week after Kinnock, at a rally in Sheffield, appeared to be anticipating a Labour victory.
These five Labour setbacks have three common characteristics. First, in each case the last week of the campaign was dominated by a “scare story” that was fulminated by the press and which made people uneasy about voting Labour.
In 1924, the Daily Mail published a headline warning of a “Civil War Plot by Socialists” based on a possibly forged letter from the Russian Foreign Minister Zinoviev which the Mail spun as a plot to turn us into a Communist country if Labour won. It was this, by the way, that prompted Michael Foot to always refer to the Mail as “The Forgers Gazette”. Remember, in the 1930s the Mail also published a “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” headline and enrolment forms for Mosley’s fascists. In 1959 the scare was built around fears that Labour would raise taxes and in 1992 there was a mixture of tax scares and also a great deal of speculation about Kinnock and Ashdown conniving over electoral reform. This year, as we all know, the scare was built around the SNP question.
The second common element about these 5 elections was that defeat occasioned an outburst of speculation about “Labour being in terminal decline” unless in all cases, “they moved more to the centre” of British politics.”
And thirdly, each of these elections saw Tory euphoria turn to tears by the time of the next election. After presiding over the General Strike of 1926, the Tories lost in 1929. They were ejected in 1964 after the fall of Harold MacMillan and the Profumo Scandal. In 1974 Edward Heath was gone after the Three Day Week. Major’s success in 1992 did not last very long and Labour won in 1997 with a landslide.
So, forget all this terminal decline nonsense. We have potentially one of the worst Prime Ministers for 100 years and this Conservative Government could well be set on the same road as Baldwin, MacMillan, Heath and Major.
Councillor Roger Truelove