Decision 79

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Against my better wisdom, I am currently watching BBC Parliament’s extravaganza of political geekery – a re-run of the election night results from 1979.

The main attraction is how charmingly ramshackle and unspun the whole coverage is: the swingometer is a bit of wood, Robin Day is interviewing peers whilst smoking a huge cigar (becuase, in the 1970s, smoking didn’t give you cancer), and David Dimbleby has just told us that their graphic of Big Ben shows the correct time due to “some computerized magic”.

The results, though, are quite interesting. It’s surprising to be reminded that, as recently as 1979, the Tories had a reasonable degree of strength in both Wales and Scotland: I’ve just seen the Tories gain Anglesey, for example, in which seat (renamed Ynys Mon) they came fourth in 2005.

On the flip side, of course, there appears to be a slightly stronger Labour showing across parts of the Midlands and the South East: although we currently hold seats in Kent and Hertfordshire, for example, the fact that they were won reasonably comfortably in October 1974 when Labour only got a bare parliamentary majority of 3 speaks to a long-term decline in that part of the country, which (arguably) only Tony Blair was able to arrest.

Can 1979 tell us much about the coming general election? I’m not sure it can, actually, much though the Tories would like it to:

  • Industrial strife had given an air of genuine crisis to the preceding months, far more so than the economic downturn does now.
  • Thatcher’s offer of a severe break with the industrial and economic consensus of the previous 35 years is very different from that offered by the Tories now.
  • Turnout – in particular, differential turnout between supporters of the main parties – appears not to have been an issue in 1979 (or, at least, it was something unacknowledged by the BBC’s pundits) – this, I believe, will be a big factor in how well Labour do in 2010.
  • The BBC’s exit poll was telling, in that it indicated that the public – by a reasonably wide margin – thought that Callaghan would make the better Prime Minister than Thatcher: in fact, Callaghan’s numbers were significantly ahead of his Party’s, with the reverse being true of Thatcher. In contrast, in 2010, the Gord will arguably be pulling the Labour poll downwards, and Cameron dragging the Tory figure up.

In essence, 1979 was an election in which – notwithstanding their reservations about Thatcher, and some kind of regard and affection for Callaghan and the Labour leadership – the public decided to make a radical change in the way Britain was set up. I’m not saying I agreed with them, but there it is.

I don’t think this will be the case in 2010: if anything, the Tories have made the most gains in rebuilding public trust since 2005 through reassuring the public that large parts of the new, Labour-built consensus on spending and public sevices in particular will not be at risk.

The next election will, I think, be about leadership – and, unfortunately for us Labour supporters, this seems to be where we’re losing out at the moment. I don’t think that David Cameron will turn out to be the great, decisive leader that the British people (God bless ’em) want him to be: his leadership of his own Party so far has shown him, I think, to be worryingly weak in dealing with extremists and fruitcakes.

However, there is something in the leadership offered by Gordon that just doesn’t seem to float the boat of many people. I’m not spoiling for a leadership election – that would clearly be madness – but Gordon’s critics in the last few weeks have been right in some respects. Gordon needs to use what credibility and persuasive power he has remaining to demonstrate that he can offer a better version of himself at the next election.

Either that, or we are doomed to almost certain failure – and it will be a failure from which the Tories will be able to build a new, totally false myth, drawing comparisons with 79, with Labour “ruining” the economy and a Tory white knight riding to Britain’s rescue.

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3 Responses to “Decision 79”

  1. manofkent86 Says:

    Excellent article as ever, Sir. Have 1 small point of disagreement re Cameron. Speaking as a Man of Kent and a key target vote of Cameron’s brigade, I think his strength is in the way he has disciplined his party. It is well-known that the Tories are full of extremists and general loons (speak to the Councillors in a Tory-run Council every day!). Given his age and lack of real experience I thought the lunatics would completely take over the Tory asylum once he took over. In my opinion he has been quick to sack any loons who poked their heads above the parapet. Where I always find him deeply unconvincing is on policy. Particularly things of interest such as the Bill of Rights/HRA stuff he seems all at sea! The sad thing is that the Gord and others have been so flakey and prone to flip-flopping recently, we will have a hell of a task persuading the public of Cameron’s flakiness.

  2. A response to the Man of Kent « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] A response to the Man of Kent By voteredgogreen I actually began this as a response in the comments to my esteemed Comrade here at the Paintbrush Collective, ManofKent86. […]

  3. Morning roundup, Tuesday 5th May 2009 - Common Endeavour Says:

    […] reputation for economic competence in the face of all of the available evidence, and the chaps at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush have been watching the BBC Thatch-a-thon and reveal that Dimbers was trying to pull the ol’ “good […]

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