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The 2017 Election: another February 1974 or 1992?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2017 by kmflett

The 2017 Election: another February 1974 or 1992?

Historical comparisons are notoriously tricky primarily because you can never be sure you are comparing like with like.

We can for example compare the outcomes of the General Elections held in 1992(narrow Tory win) or in February 1974  (Labour won 4 more seats than the Tories) but these were different times.

If we start with February 1974 the problem becomes immediately apparent.

Tory PM Heath who had been in Office since 1970 called a ‘Who Governs Britain’ election. Industrial action by miners (for younger readers these were people who dug coal out of the ground and for which the UK relied on for its energy supply) had led Heath to introduce a three day working week. Power cuts were widespread and TV was shut down at 10pm.

Perhaps not surprisingly the electorate determined that Heath should not govern. Labour under Harold Wilson held most seats and formed a minority Government. 8 months later in October Wilson called another Election and on that occasion just got an overall majority.

Much media commentary suggests that the Tories will call another election this autumn. That seems unlikely given that thanks to the summer recess Parliament will not sitting for a good bit of the intervening period. Calling another election ‘because we didn’t win the last one- which btw was not necessary anyway’ is not likely to go well.

More importantly Labour was on an electoral ‘up’ in February 1974. It was reasonable to expect that might continue. In 2017 the Tories are most definitely not on an electoral ‘up.

1992 is perhaps more interesting. The expectation was that Neil Kinnock would defeat John Major. He did not. The Tories got 336 seats to Labours 271 (a little better than June 8th). Yet the Tories were past their political sell by date and 5 years of John Major underlined the point big time. In 1997 Tony Blair led Labour to 418 seats compared to the Tories 165. On reflection many Tories may well have felt they would have been better off losing in 1992. They did not regain Office until 2010.

June 8th may well be another such moment- an Election the Tories might have been better off losing.

Dr Keith Flett convenes the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research

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