Monday, 9 April 2012

20 Years on: 9 April 1992

Extract from the Guardian newspaper dated 10 April 1992.

"The Conservatives steadily clawed their way back towards power with a small but workable majority early today as a late surge cut the expected swing to Labour and confirmed John Major's hopes of a fourth Tory term.

At 3.45 am, the BBC and ITV computers predicted up to 335 seats and a majority of 17 for the Conservatives. But Neil Kinnock, in a wistful speech after winning a record majority in Islwyn, insisted: "The battle is not yet over." Enigmatically, the Labour leader, whose position must now be in doubt, offered his service to the country "in any capacity".

The remarkable Tory victory , which soon ended all talk of hung parliaments, constituted a profound rebuff for both opposition parties, suggesting permament changes in electoral behaviour, despite solid Labour gains even in London and the South.  Amid ministerial sighs of relief and flagging optimism in the Labour ranks as defeat loomed, the Cabinet suffered a spectacular casualty when the Conservative chairman, Chris Patten, who had orchestrated a beleaguered campaign while nursing a highly marginal seat, lost Bath to the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Major called Mr Patten the "architect of the campaign" and said he would soon be back. His cabinet seat may well be kept open for him.  Lynda Chalker, the Overseas Development Minister, lost at Wallasey. But in Scotland, Michael Forsyth, the combative Thatcherite minister, hung on in Stirling against a Labour onslaught - part of a Tory revival in the wake of Mr Major's pro-Unionist campaign which won Aberdeen South and took back Kincardine and Deeside.  Only in Scotland did the Tory vote increase, along with the Scottish Nationalists who promptly denounced both their rivals' betrayals and raised the spectre of future conflict.

The pound moved sharply higher in the early hours, gaining two cents to Dollars 1.7750 and two pfennigs to DM2.8750 as the foreign exchanges digested the prospect of a Conservative majority. With money market interest rates dipping below 10.5% for the first time since before the Budget, the stock market was expected to boom today amid hints of further cuts in interest rates.

Initial expectations of one of the main parties working in a hung parliament rapidly receded as 2am saw only 33 Labour gains. Both BBC and ITV pollsters revised their projections in the Tories' favour, gradually moving the odds towards a narrow overall majority as the night wore on.  Mr Major's personal mandate marked the first time a party had won four times since 1827 and allowed Margaret Thatcher to announce that 'it conserves everything we have done to restore Britain to its reputation.' In reality, Mr Major - who said 'it seems quite satisfactory so far' at 3.30 am - is now free to reshape his inheritance. But the failure of Labour's five year reconstruction will prompt far more fundamental heart-searching.

Ministers, who had entered the campaign on March 11 with far more private foreboding than they admitted, were increasingly cheerful as they realised they might escape the fate of other incumbent governments in the West faced with punishment for the recession. Michael Heseltine, for whom promotion beckons when Mr Major reshuffles his inherited cabinet, said the Tories had won on their promises of economic recovery.
Labour consolations included victory in David Owen's old seat of Devonport and both the Social Democrat seats in London. The defeat of John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes marked the end of the SDP. Elsewhere in London, Glenda Jackson took Hampstead for Labour.  Almost from the start the results produced consistently disappointing results for both Mr Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown - though, early on, Labour took Pendle in Lancashire, where the poll tax hit hardest, and the Liberal Democrats captured Cheltenham from the Tories' high-flying black barrister, John Taylor. The Lib Dems took Cornwall North and Devon North, too, but also lost byelection gains in Ribble Valley, Eastbourne and Kincardine.

Labour won Hyndburn in the key marginal area of the North West with a swing of 4.3 per cent, the first of at least eight gains in the region. Nuneaton was first to fall in the West Midlands - another target area where ministers had feared heavy losses - on a 7 per cent swing from the Tories. In the early hours, Pendle's new MP, Gordon Prentice, was joined at Westminster by his wife, Bridget, who beat junior minister Colin Moynihan in Lewisham East. Other ministerial casualties included Christopher Chope, David Trippier, Michael Fallon and John Maples.  Kingswood in Bristol, Delyn in Wales, Walthamstow, Hornsey and Croydon NW in London, Cannock, Northfield, and Wolverhampton NE in the West Midlands were among Labour gains. But Labour's extra 4-5% share of the vote proved painfully inadequate for Mr Kinnock's purposes, even though key marginals produced a much sharper tactical swing away from the government, 4 per cent or more. At 42%, the Tories' share of the poll scarcely dropped from 1987.

Much as Tory campaign strategists had hoped, the late swing appeared to have pulled Tory dissidents back from the Liberal Democrat camp. They fell back everywhere, though Mr Ashdown insisted it was 'a very, very disappointing night for Labour' since defeat in the pit of recession made it look as if they might never win again. Labour now faces its own painful inquest.  In Southport, Liberal Democrat Ronnie Fearn unexpectedly lost to the Conservative, shortly before Mike Carr, the party's Ribble Valley byelection victor, also suffered defeat. So did another byelection star, the Scottish Nationalists' deputy leader, Jim Sillars, who lost Glasgow Govan.

In Coventry South East, Dave Nellist, expelled from the Labour Party for his Militant ties, came third, narrowly behind the Tory and the winning official Labour candidate. Terry Field, the Liverpool Militant-linked ex-MP, also lost to Labour in Broad Green. On the basis of early exit polls, senior Labour politicians insisted that the Conservative Government had 'lost the moral right to govern'. But ministers regained heart after David Amess, the Thatcherite MP for Basildon in the heart of 'Essex Man' country, held his seat against a strong Labour challenge in a constituency badly hit by the recession. Labour took Thurrock but, as its 41st target seat, Basildon was one Mr Kinnock had to take to win power.

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