Magazine article The Spectator

Nothing Less Than Victory

Magazine article The Spectator

Nothing Less Than Victory

Article excerpt

'It's the Sun wot won it,' crowed Kelvin MacKenzie with characteristic chutzpah on the front page of Britain's best-selling newspaper after Neil Kinnock had crashed to defeat in the 1992 general election. As the nation went to the polls, the Currant Bun featured the Welsh Windbag's head inside a 40-watt bulb, under the headline, 'If Kinnock wins, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.' When the Tories were returned to office, Kelvin was quick to claim the credit.

Well, up to a point, Lord Wapping. The Sun has a voice, but it doesn't have a vote. In truth, it was the Sun's readers wot won it, just as they had in every other election in modern times. During the 1980s they backed the Thatcher revolution, which transformed their lives, respected them as individuals, freed them from trade union tyranny and put money in their pockets.

By 1992 the Tories had run out of steam and had replaced the Iron Lady with a leader for whom the term lacklustre might have been minted. The good times of the Eighties were a distant memory as interest rates soared and the property bubble burst. All those who had bought their council houses suddenly found their homes worth less than their mortgages. Black Wednesday was just a few short months away.

And yet, and yet. . . . As a columnist on the Sun, my postbag provides a pretty accurate insight into the mood of the readers. In 1992 they were sick of the sight of the Conservatives but couldn't bring themselves to make the great leap forward to Labour, especially under the buffoonish leadership of Kinnocchio.

Some commentators see the defining moment of that campaign as Labour's Sheffield rally. It was meant to be Kinnock's Martin Luther King 'I have a dream' moment. Instead, it was more like the assassination of MLK - except that Kinnock turned the gun on himself. He stood on the podium and screamed, 'Well, AWWLLLRIIIGHTTT!!' He sounded less like a potential prime minister and more like Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band live at the Detroit Silverdome. Sun readers saw the future of rock'n'roll and trooped to the polls to return the Tories for a fourth successive term.

So where are we up to this time around? Again I look to my postbag, as well as my viscera. As the phoney war splutters to an end and the campaign proper begins, everything tells me this is 1992 all over again.

Voters are bitterly disillusioned with Labour. They can see through the spin and statistics, they have tired of the smears and the lies. There is an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Labour was elected with a mandate which would have allowed it to change Britain irrevocably and, depending on your point of view, for the better. The Sun and its readers decided Tony Blair had earned his chance and renounced Labour's bad old tax-and-spend ways. Here was the opportunity to reform the public services and transform the nation for the 21st century.

Four years on, nothing. Labour's first term had been squandered. When Blair came back for a second mandate, the electorate sent him away again with the clear message: you've already got your mandate - now get on with it. Four years later, 66 tax rises have not translated into 'worldclass' schools'n'ospitals, unless you include world record illiteracy and deaths from MRSA. To call the transport system Third World' is an insult to the Third World. And then there's that war, which the Sun and the majority of its readers supported because it was the right thing to do, but which was sold on a false prospectus because Blair can't help lying, even when he's right. Now, for the first time in a generation, incomes and living standards are falling. Tony Blair's make-up is dry and cracked on his chin.

And yet, despite disappointment bordering on loathing, I still detect a reluctance among the electorate in general - and Sun readers in particular - to make the jump to the Conservatives. So I went to see Michael Howard at the Conservatives' shiny new headquarters in Victoria Street. …

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