Posts Tagged ‘John Major’

Election 1997 20th anniversary: Fear and loathing in Conservative Central Office

01/05/2017, 10:55:57 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Mark Stockwell was a staffer at Conservative Central Office.

Twenty-odd points behind in the polls. Divided, discredited, and despised. Doomed to defeat, a whole generation of talent set to be swept aside in an electoral tsunami from the south of England to the highlands of Scotland, and all points between.

That was the situation facing the Conservative Party on 1 May 1997. And although the eventual share of the vote was closer than the polls suggested, the impact in terms of seats won and lost was every bit as devastating.

In the early hours of the morning of 2 May, as the scale of Tony Blair’s victory became clear, a small crowd of ‘well-wishers’ gathered outside the then Tory HQ. Some maintain that they were chanting “You’re out and you know you are” (to the tune of ‘Go West’). From inside the Smith Square bunker, I think it was the more traditional football-terrace lyrics I could hear. And while some were outraged at this impertinence, and still shocked at what had unfolded during the course of the night, a good deal more were inclined to shrug and think to themselves, “fair enough”. Eighteen years of Conservative rule had come to a shattering end and those who had hastened its demise were in no mood for an insincere display of magnanimity.

Earlier, preparing to hunker down for a sleepless night of election coverage and (let’s be honest) steady drinking, a few Central Office staffers in the ‘war room’ had printed off a list of marginal seats and pinned it to the wall in order to keep track of the results as we went along. (Even the memory of this quaint, paper-based approach seems to tinge the whole scene with sepia. I don’t think we even had Excel in those days.)

After a handful of early results had filtered through, the extent of the swing to Labour and the patterns of tactical voting had become obvious. A few of us began to exchange anxious glances. I can’t recall exactly who said it first, or at what stage in proceedings, but pretty soon the conclusion was unavoidable: “We’re going to need to print out another sheet.” And pretty soon, another one. I recalled the words of Pitt the Younger on hearing of Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz: “Roll up the map; we will not be needing it these ten years.”


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It is time for the UK to stop being the sulking teenager of Europe

18/04/2016, 09:47:44 PM

by Ranjit Sidhu

If we are really honest, the United Kingdom has never fully bought into the EU. Like the sulking teenager on a family holiday, we have been sitting there, slightly away from the others, looking in the opposite direction and when asked our opinion mumbled something unintelligible or shouted back You all do what you want, just leave me alone” (see any EU treaty since inception).

This position has led to the EU institutions being shaped by others so as to appear completely foreign to the eyes of the UK general public.

This refusal to get fully involved has also lead to the UK pursuing policies on Europe that have evolved into reasons for leaving.

It is often forgotten that the expansion of the EU to encompass the Eastern European states such as Bulgaria, Romania and Poland was a policy pushed hard by the Eurosceptics.

It was a policy that John Major used to provide some semblance of unity for his Government in making Europe wider rather than deeper”, i.e. enlarging the Union to prevent the great fear of the Eurosceptics in the 1990s: a Franco/German/Benelux political union.

That it was a Eurosceptic policy that has led inevitably to budget flows from the rich Western European countries to the development of the poorer Eastern European countries and the inevitable flow of workers in the opposite direction is ironic, but also instructive; if we do not fully get involved in the decision-making at the heart of the European project our policies will come back to haunt us.

Another forgotten detail of European history is that when Margaret Thatcher made her famous No, No, No” speech in Parliament, it was in part against the suggestion of the then European Commission president, Jacques Delores, of making the European Parliament more central to the decision-making process in Europe.


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If Osborne still wants to be PM, he should get out of the Treasury

23/03/2016, 05:42:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Harold Wilson’s often tritely-invoked dictum that a week is a long time in politics certainly does seem to sum-up George Osborne’s terribilis autem sabbati (if my Latin for ‘terrible week’ is indeed accurate).

From all-conquering chancellor with a ‘long-term economic plan’ to yesterday’s man, forced into a screeching U-turn over disability payment cuts. Will he survive? It’s fashionable to write-off the Chancellor’s prospects of succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister, but he is resilient, and come the Armageddon, its likely Osborne will ride out of the nuclear shelter atop a giant mutant cockroach, the last two species to survive.

More prosaically, it’s worth looking at the batting averages of previous post-war prime ministers who took over from their predecessors while in government. What did they do immediately beforehand?

Tellingly, each of them either served as foreign secretary or chancellor of the exchequer.

Foreign secretary Anthony Eden replaced Churchill in 1955. Chancellor Harold MacMillan succeeded Eden in 1957. While Alec Douglas-Home, another foreign secretary, followed on from MacMillan.


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Back to earth Milifans. Labour’s on track to get just 10 more seats than Gordon managed. That’s good is it?

28/04/2015, 07:12:15 PM

by Samuel Dale

Ed Miliband is having a party. He’s running rings around Boris Johnson, hobnobbing with Russell Brand and joking about the Boston Red Sox.

He is ready. He’s packing his bags for Downing Street along with the bookies, Labour members, some pollsters and an increasing number of political commentators.

Party confidence is growing every day after a well-run campaign has boosted Miliband while a brutally negative one appears to be damaging Cameron.

It looks like we’ve got the Big Mo.

But let’s look at the facts. The FT is projecting Labour on course for 268 seats and that’s before a probable late squeeze that always afflicts the party.

That is a net gain of just 10 from the nadir of 2010 when a monstrously unpopular Gordon Brown was battling the banking crisis and global recession.

That’s after five years in opposition against a fractious coalition that has missed its deficit target, lost the AA credit rating and rained unprecedented cuts on the nation. Just 10 more seats. Ten.

Just 268 seats would be by far the weakest mandate of any prime minister in modern British history. Differently polls tell slightly different stories but let’s use the FT as a barometer for now.


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SNP-backed Miliband or a return to the John Major years? Only the Lib Dems can stop it

22/04/2015, 05:44:47 PM

by Samuel Dale

He’s back. The most successful prime minister – nay politician – ever to grace British parliamentary democracy.

A man of such grace, skill and power that he swept all before him in his pomp. Adored by his own. Feared by rivals. Yesterday, he spoke and we – humble electorate – must heed his wise counsel.

I speak, of course, of Sir John Major. Well, that seems to be the absurd narrative pedalled by the electorally-charged right-wing press that once lampooned Major’s premiership. Times change. Major’s speech gave warning of the higher taxes, fewer jobs and general mayhem of a Labour government supported by the SNP.

Firstly, he’s right. A Labour/SNP deal would be a disaster for Britain and the Labour party as well.

There would be an economic chilling effect around new investment into the UK while the PLP would be split over any arrangement with the nationalists. In fact, I was warning about it on this blog before it was cool.

But, as many have pointed out, it was John Major’s Government in the 1990s that actually did deliver higher taxes, fewer jobs and general mayhem.

Look at the facts. There’s Black Wednesday, when a self-inflicted economic crisis pushed the Bank of England’s interest rates to a crushing 15% in September 1992.


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This election needs a soapbox or an Irn Bru crate

18/04/2015, 11:47:04 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Paralysing fear has infected every aspect of the parties’ campaigns.

Strategists fear the voters, so they stage tightly controlled events, away from the truculent public. Junior staffers fear any slight mishap that might make the news, so even the most minor decision is dictated by a safety first doctrine.

And Ed Miliband and David Cameron fear everything and anything, otherwise they would not accept the counsel of caution from their advisers which shackles all that they do.

The result is an arid campaign, a dismal parade of media moments contrived for broadcasters that lack the incident and passion to galvanise anybody but the already committed.

A news vacuum is developing. The manifesto launches commanded attention earlier in the week, but now what?

The front pages are already drifting away from the election. Soon, as is always the way in politics, this lacuna will be filled with the grumbles of worried candidates and plotting leadership contenders, taking aim at their leaders.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For the party bosses running the party campaigns, there is an alternative.

1992, which has already provided much of the template for this contest, also offers a lesson in how to fill that vacuum without the need to scramble out new half-baked policy announcements dreamt up the night before or to escalate the ferocity of personal attacks to shock a path into the news.

Imagine if one or more of the party leaders took a leaf out of John Major’s book and didn’t just do managed Q&As with pre-vetted, politically emasculated supporters, but actually went out to meet the British public on the high street, in the shopping centre and at the market.

If they went to where the public are, rather than hiding in a hall ringed with security, put down a soapbox, stood on it and spoke to real voters.

Jim Murphy is Scottish leader in no small part because of his one man campaign across Scotland in the independence referendum, speaking to the Scottish public from atop his Irn Bru crate.

There were baying nationalist mobs, protesters, eggs, but also, fabulous pictures for print and broadcast, personal guts and raw emotion.

The plaudits from journalists or every persuasion – right, left, nationalist and unionist – after the clip below was shared were extraordinary. It’s hard not admire Jim Murphy’s passion, resilience and commitment.


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Is the shire one nation? Are hobbits blue Labour?

03/12/2012, 02:54:47 PM

by Ian Stewart

Sometimes it is a good thing to have obsessions other than politics. There are times when your interests can coincide, and that’s good too, but we all need to have an escape from the world – even an atheist needs his “heart in a heartless world.”

Only a few days to go now comrades, and I am reaching a level of excitement normally only reached at election time, or during the six nations. Soon we will see the results of all that had work for ourselves.

Not a by-election, not a mayoral race nor even one of those exciting composite motions at the TUC, but the imagining of the wilds of Mirkwood. Yes, Mirkwood, across The misty mountains of middle earth, with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and thirteen dwarfs, led by Thorin Oakenshield.  I really, really cannot wait to see what Peter Jackson has made of this children’s classic.

From December the thirteenth, we will finally get to see if the waiting has been worth it.  The production has been fraught with controversy, from Gulliermo del Toro being in, then out, to accusations of animal cruelty, to taking a pretty slim book and expanding it into three full-length feature films.

On top of this, the Conservative New Zealand government drove a horse and cart through workers rights to enable Warner Brothers and New Line to pay actors and extras below scale. From the outside, it has sometimes looked like a production doomed to failure, and what with the anti-union practices and threats, a deserved one at that.

Yet we all watched the Olympics, knowing full well that the companies who built the stadia were engaged in blacklisting health and safety reps, that the founder of the modern games was a proto-fascist who admired and applauded Hitler in 1936. All I will do is cut the films and Jackson a little slack.


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The unsung hero of our golden Olympic summer is…John Major

06/09/2012, 07:00:54 AM

by Peter Watt

Rightly over the last few weeks we have marvelled at the sports that we have witnessed during the Olympics and currently at the Paralympics.  If we were worried about whether we could pull it off as country before, then now all we can do is push our chests out and rightly gloat.  We did it!

It is difficult to find anything that has not gone well and the memories that we are left with are sublime.  Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis, Bradley Wiggins, Ellie Simmonds, David Weir; we will all have our favourites.  It has been a sporting experience that is being shared in some shape or form by the majority of the population.

The rest of the world has rightly looked on and has been impressed by our organisation, by our sporting success and by the sheer joy with which we have embraced the games.

Inevitably there have been some rather lame attempts to get political kudos from all of this.  Labour has mentioned “once or twice” that it was a Labour government that had the courage to secure the games in the first place.  The Tories have made much of the fact that the delivery was completed on time and on their watch.  They have also hoped that a national focus on the weeks of glorious sport would give them a break from the relentlessly bad news of the previous months.

Our politicians have had photo-ops with athletes and with supporters.  They have presented medals and flowers to winners.  Twitter has been full of the political community discussing the multiplicity of sports and publicly congratulating our sporting greats.  The hope was that the greatness and feel-good factor would rub off.  It worked for Boris but definitely not for George or Theresa.

In fact I suspect that the booing of George Osborne may become an enduring and defining impression.  But that aside, on the whole, the activities of our politicians have thankfully gone unnoticed during the sporting festivities.

But I have been inspired by the spirit of fair-play embodied by the Olympians and Paralympians.  And in that spirit, there seems to me to be one politician above all others who can justifiably feel self-satisfied at the role that they have played in the success of London 2012.

And that is John Major.

John Major has somehow been written out of history by many in politics.  Certainly the Tories don’t really talk about him or his term in office.  And Labour isn’t that bothered about referring to the Major years either.  It is almost as if nothing happened politically between 1990 and 1997 that really matters anymore.  Surely it was all about sleaze, internal fights over Maastricht and assaults on John Major’s leadership?


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Major was fearful, Cameron is hubristic – the result is the same

24/10/2011, 01:09:05 PM

by Jim Murphy MP

People watching political events unfold over the last few weeks will have felt a sense of familiarity. A minister resigns amidst scandal. Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers threaten mass revolt. Inflation and unemployment are steadily high while the government looks on. A party of government turns inwards when the country seeks leadership. A prime minister appears at the mercy of events rather than in charge of them.  This is the Conservative government in the early 1990s, but now David Cameron has taken the role of John Major. And just to complete the set the Stone Roses have announced they are reforming.

We all remember the sleaze scandals of the 1990s. A minister resigned after lobbying on behalf of a businessman.  Two PPSs and two ministers resigned following ‘cash for questions’.  Current minister Alan Duncan resigned after making £50,000 from a deal on a council house. Jonathan Aitken was accused of secretly doing deals with Saudi princes and then sent to jail for perjury. And we do not need reminding of ‘toe job to no job’.

The Fox resignation was a different type of crisis.  Liam Fox was found to have broken the ministerial code on multiple counts. His unofficial adviser was used to orchestrate a shadow political operation which undermined the civil service. He appears to have solicited undeclared donations.  His and Mr Werritty’s funders have well established links to the Conservative party.

The nature of the wrongdoing has been clear for some time, but the full extent has yet to be revealed by a prime Minister who has refused to take responsibility for a crisis that happened on his watch inside the most sensitive of government departments. David Cameron will still not answer our questions.

In a similar way as John Major’s “back to basics” speech jarred with the actions of his ministers and MPs, so David Cameron’s words in the ministerial code “We must be…transparent about what we do and how we do it…above improper influence” jar with his actions during the Liam Fox scandal.

David Cameron may not have labelled some in his party as ‘bastards’ over Europe, but few would bet against him sharing that sentiment at the moment. Just as with John Major, at a vital moment for the future of the EU and therefore Britain a Tory government is debating internal party politics.  Rather than engaging seriously with the Treaty which led the EU to come into existence John Major was desperately scrabbling for votes in the House of Commons.  Rather than concentrating on the growing crisis gripping the European economy David Cameron is having showdown meetings with his MPs. (more…)

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