How will this election be rated in history, says ROSS CLARK


For many people, today will bring immense relief. They will be able to get out Christmas shopping without being assailed by canvassers and opinion pollsters. They will be able to switch on the TV without encountering a party election broadcast or a live debate with politicians shouting over the top of each other.

But however irritated we may have been over the past few weeks, in retrospect we will be able to see what a momentous election this has been. For its implications for the life of the nation, if not always for the quality of debate, this has been one of the great elections of the past century. So just where will the ­election of 2019 fit into history? Many of us will remember the drama of 1997 when Tony Blair won his enormous majority at the expense of the Conservatives, who crashed to their heftiest defeat in a century. 

But that was like choosing between two brands of soap suds. The biggest victor in 1997 was Mrs Thatcher, who ­triumphed from beyond the political grave in that Labour had accepted almost all her economic reforms. 

Socialism had finally been defeated and all future elections would be fought over which ­flavour of liberal capitalism we preferred.

Or so we thought – until Jeremy Corbyn emerged from an undistinguished career on the backbenches to sell socialism afresh to a new ­generation of voters who have never known its horrors. 

To find an election with so much at stake as this one, you have to go back to 1983, when Michael Foot tried to woo voters with a manifesto that fellow Labour MP Gerald Kaufman famously damned as “the longest suicide note in history”. 

Then, as now, Labour threatened punitive taxes on individual businesses, planned a massive nationalisation programme and a huge expansion in public services financed by reckless borrowing. 

It also promised unilateral nuclear disarmament. 

But then the outcome of the 1983 election was never much in doubt – Mrs Thatcher was way ahead in the polls from the start. 

Four years earlier, the election which brought Mrs Thatcher, below, to power was less predictable. 

Looking back on it, 1979 marks one of the great turning points in modern British history. 

Yet that didn’t become clear for some time. 

The privatisations that were to redefine the role of the state in all our lives were not in the Conservative manifesto. 

For the sense of destiny created by the 2019 election, you really have to go back to 1945 when Clement Atlee defeated Winston Churchill to usher in Britain’s first experiment with socialism. 

Looking back, it still seems shocking that a great leader who only weeks before had been cheered to the rafters on VE day should have succumbed to election defeat. 

But then it is easy to understand the sense of excitement that the prospect of collectivism brought to people shellshocked by two world wars. 

The failures of socialism, the stagnation of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, were well into the future. 

But this election has been characterised by internecine warfare, with MPs standing against their own former ­parties. 

In the 1922 election the Liberal Party was split down the middle between the factions led by David Lloyd George and HH Asquith. 

The Tories were also divided between those who wanted to continue in coalition with the Liberals and those who did not. 

Division proved fatal for the Liberals, who have never since been the larger partner in government. 

Ailing Conservative leader Andrew Bonar Law held on as prime minister, but the real, long-term victor was the Labour Party which for the first time achieved second place with more seats than the two halves of the Liberal Party put together. 

In the 1920s, as in the 2010s, political instability meant that we had four elections in a ­decade – indeed between 1922 and 1924 we had one election a year. 

In 1923, Bonar Law resigned through ill-health and new prime minister Stanley Baldwin sought a personal mandate and flunked it. 

Although the Conservatives were the largest party, Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald managed to form a government with Liberal support. 

The Labour minority government, however, lasted only a year. 

In 1924 Baldwin was back with a huge majority of 209 – greater, even, than either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair achieved. 

Political stability returned and we didn’t have another general election for five years. 

Will this election similarly end the turmoil of the past four years? 

We can only hope. 


About Author

Leave A Reply