Euroelections: 1994 and now

3:14 pm - June 8th 2009

by Dave Osler    

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Remember the factional disarray that beset Conservative governments in the early 1990s, as Labour supporters gleefully watched the Major administrations unravel before our very eyes?

I can’t help being struck by the parallels between the political climate then and now. Except that this time round, Labour is the butt of the joke and it is the Tories that require a continuous supply of dry underwear.

One obvious comparison is the state of the UK economy, which had undergone serious turbulence in the preceding two years, as a result of the unconstrained financial markets that Thatcherism deified and the Labourism of the period still half-heartedly contemplated reining in.

The nation was outraged that a handful of Conservative backbenchers had pocketed bungs in plain brown paper envelopes for tabling parliamentary questions, although the furore was as nothing compared to the apoplexy generated by the expenses crisis.

Red top kiss ‘n’ tell activity reached the level of a minor cottage industry, with tales of Juanita Maneater’s improbable feats of athleticism with ministers clad in Chelsea shirts, knocked-up local councillors, and bed-sharing on holidays in France to ‘save on hotel bills’ generating widespread moral outrage, most of it entirely feigned.

There has been nothing like it until earlier this year, when the News of the World published those pictures of Nigel ‘Babe Magnet’ Griffiths in flagrante delicto drunkenly chasing some leggy chick in stockings round the office sofa.

The impression – which, as a Labour-supporting journalist, I naturally did my utmost to propagate – was of a fag-end government going through the motions until the electorate could administer the necessary coup de grace.

So it was that even before the 1994 euroelections, everyone knew Labour was on course for a massive victory in the general election that was to come. Yet somehow the outcome of the contest served to confirm the prognosis, just as last night’s results offers a pointer to the impending return of the Conservatives.

To recap, 15 years ago, the first major electoral outing for New Labour under the leadership of Tony Blair saw the party secure 43%, a far cry from the nugatory 16% it scored last night.

The Tories got 27%, a share only fractionally less than the 28% that has enabled it to emerge as the most popular party this time round. That was considered a disastrous showing at the time.

The Lib Dems were on 16%, again in the same ball park as their performance last Thursday. UKIP hardly registered, with a laughable 1%, and the main far right challenger, the National Front, managed just 0.1% for its five candidates.

On the evidence of last night, Cameron is not building anything like the same base of positive support that Blair was able to create. But then he doesn’t have to, because the collapse of the governing party is all the more comprehensive. If only Brown had done as well as Major managed at the equivalent juncture, he wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

On the ideological level, it is worth pointing out that an absolute majority of voters last night voted for parties of the right. The aggregate tally for the Conservatives, UKIP and the BNP comes in a shade over 50%.

Within that figure, we see that one Briton in five of those that can be bothered to turn out voted either for a reactionary rightist formation or an out-and-out fascist organisation.

So much for the argument that economic downturn is generally a harbinger of leftist revival. From our point of view, the 2010s looks distinctly worrying.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Story Filed Under: Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Lib-left future ,Libdems

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Reader comments

“If only Brown had done as well as Major” has got the most painfully depressing thing I’ve read all day.

2. Chris Williams

On the other hand, I bet you that Cameron is wishing that he’d done as well as Blair in 1994. This is actually a pretty average performance by the Tories: they are not hoovering up the anti-Labour votes in the manner that Labour hoovered up the anti-Tory vote in 199x. They will make it into power in the next general election, but they are likely to do so on a mandate more like that of 2005 than that of 1997: best of a crap lot on a low turnout.

The problem is the votes that aren’t going to the Conservatives are going to the “Other” parties like the Greens, UKIP and, tragically, the BNP. However, it is extremely unlikely they will get any MP’s elected in the FPTP system – 1 or 2 if they can strike a chord on local issues in a couple of constituencys.

This is why the Tories won’t be worried. As long as it isn’t the Lib Dems picking up a large share of the Labour vote they will still have a large majority come the general election.

However it might be the case, that come the General Election the electorate will return to the mainstream parties, and for the Tories to have a large majority in the Commons they need to make sure they pick up most of the voters who voted for fringe parties in the recent elections.

Will be a difficult one to judge if things remain as they are.

May I say this is beautifully written.

5. Shatterface

I’ve been rather surprised by the success of Sweden’s Pirate Party, which puts the ‘rise’ of the BNP in the shade. I thought they were just a spoof but apparently they are already Sweden’s third largest party and stand on a platform of privacy and challenging intellectual property rights.

There does not appear to be the support for Cameron which Blair enjoyred post -95. Consequently , Johnson as PM and a slight pick up in the economy may result in the Tories with a 20-30 majority. Whatever party is in power, there will have to be massive cuts post 2010. Therefore, Labour could win a GE in 2014-205. However, if the Tories win a 100 seat plus majority , then they are likley to be in power for 8-12 years. I Cannot understand how Labour MPs have not removed Brown as his presence makes a 100 seat majority by the Tories far more likely. For Labour’s fortunes over the next 12 years , what they must prevent is a Tory majority of 100 plus seats as this combined with a lack of county councils makes the fight back far more difficult. If the Tory majority can be kept to 20 seats, a split over Europe could cause them to lose 10 or more MPs. Once a party only has a very small majority it can soon run out of energy and generally the country does not vote for tired parties.

7. David Boothroyd

At the time of the 1994 European elections, Blair had not yet been elected; Margaret Beckett was the leader pending the special conference in July. It’s fair to say though that there was a widespread feeling that Tony Blair would win the leadership election even though campaigning had been suspended until the EP elections were out of the way.

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