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The general election of April 9, 1992, was the fourth victory in a row for the Conservatives.
Margaret Thatcher had been forced out of office in November 1990 and John Major, poorly regarded by some, succeeded her. During his term leading up to the 1992 elections he oversaw the British involvement in the Gulf War, abolished the disliked poll tax in favour of council tax and signed the Maastricht treaty. Like other leaders of major industrialized nations, he failed to halt the economy's slide into recession. Major waited until his Chancellor, Norman Lamont, had delivered a budget before announcing the date of the election on March 11. Some claimed the budget represented populist tax-cutting.
Labour entered the campaign full of confidence; under the leadership of Neil Kinnock the party had undergone a deep reorganisation and modernisation following the failures at the 1987 election. Most opinion polls predicted a slight Labour lead, leading to a hung Parliament (with no single party having an overall majority).
Labour and the Tories campaigned on the now traditional grounds of taxation and health care. Major became known for actually standing on a soapbox during his public meetings, while Labour's shadow chancellor, John Smith put forward a "shadow budget". Labour were approached by the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown seeking an alliance, Labour did not clearly commit or refuse but sent out mixed messages.
In late March, Labour's campaign was not helped by the "War of Jennifer's Ear" controversy, which questioned the veracity of a Labour party election broadcast concerning NHS waiting lists.
Labour seemingly recovered from the controversy, and opinion polls on 1st April (dubbed "Red Wednesday") showed Labour in a decisive lead. But this lead was greatly diminished in the following day's polls with the decline blamed largely on the Labour Party's "Sheffield Rally": an enthusiastic US-style political convention at the Sheffield Arena.
With Labour still narrowly ahead in the opinion polls, the actual election result was a surprise to many, especially in the media and polling organisations. Turnout at the election, at 77.67 %, was the highest in eighteen years. There was an overall swing of 2.2 % towards Labour, insufficient to gain them victory but something of a boost and also widening the gap between themselves and the Lib-Dems. for the Conservatives, despite the reasonable percentage of votes gained (only 0.5 % down on 1987), the actual Conservative majority was only 21 seats and that became progressively smaller across Major's term in office. By the following election in 1997, Major was effectively running a minority government. Nine government ministers had lost their seats as well as the party chairman, Chris Patten.
On the morning of polling day, the Sun newspaper (which had consistently supported the Conservatives throughout the campaign) had published a controversial front page with the headline "If Neil Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights." Many commentators believed that this caused a late swing to the Conservatives sufficient to overcome Labour's poll lead. The Sun certainly thought so and their story on the election results was headlined "It wos the Sun wot won it." Tony Blair also accepted this theory of Labour's defeat and has put considerable effort into securing the Sun's support for New Labour, both as Leader of the Opposition before the 1997 general election and as Prime Minster afterwards. Other commentators give the Sun a less important role, and suggest that the opinion pollsters simply got it wrong.
The Labour Party were not the only disappointed participants of the 1992 Election. In Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP) had high hopes of making a major electoral breakthrough. They had run a hard campaign with Free by '93 their slogan, and support for independence polled at 50% in one newspaper poll shortly before the election.
In the end though the SNP only held onto the three seats they won at the 1987 General Election and lost the Govan seat that they had won in 1988 with their deputy leader Jim Sillars as candidate. The number of seats they had hoped to won had been significantly higher and the outcome proved extremely disappointing to many, not least Sillars who quit active politics with a parting shot describing the Scottish electorate as 'ninety minute patriots'.
The one major upside for the SNP was that they managed to increase their vote by 50% on the number won in 1987.
|Party||Votes||Seats||Loss/Gain||Share of Vote (%)|
|Liberal Democrats||5,999,384||20||- 2||17.8|
|Plaid Cymru||156,796||4||+ 1||0.5|
|Democratic Unionist||103,039||3||- 1||0.3|
|Sinn Fein||78,291||0||- 1||0.2|