The lady and the Tramp.
Has Mrs May sown the seeds for her party’s future downfall by calling an election?
The open outcry futures markets in London were in their infancy when the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called for an Election to take place June 9th 1983. To many people the City was a total mystery, however the film ‘Trading Places’ had caught the public’s imagination and suddenly it was relatively easy to explain your job to friends as they had seen a portrayal of it on the big screen where Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykrod exchanged their lives . On further reflection it was a pain and if I had a pound for every person who said “Looking good Billy Ray“ thinking that they could speak the language of traders I would be a very rich man! Now open outcry markets, sadly in my opinion, have gone however there are some interesting parallels between 1983 and 2017, as well as some amusing differences.
Margaret Thatcher is revered as a great leader by many and equally still loathed by many, but if we look back at her approval ratings ‘at the peak of her popularity (in June 1982, after the recapture of the Falklands), 59% were satisfied with her performance, while her rating fell as low as 20% satisfied (in March 1990).’ Source Ipsos Mori. She was though, a canny politician and seized her one chance to go to the country whilst still bathing in the public’s approval of her government’s victory in The Falklands war despite the 907 deaths that had occurred. Theresa May is enjoying similar popularity approvals which were recently running at a record 61% whilst her opposite number Jeremy Corbyn languishes at 23%.
The contrast between Thatcher and Michael Foot, the then leader of the labour opposition, also mirrors todays contest. A committed socialist and a man possessed with a strong intellect he made two fatal mistakes as leader to compound his biggest mistake of accepting the leadership. Firstly he appeared at the UK’s annual Remembrance parade in 1981 in a scruffy jacket , now I am no fashion correspondent but the contrast with the older be medalled politicians standing behind him could not be stronger and the Conservative press enjoyed a field day at his expense and the image became planted in the public’s imagination and still is. Coupled with a manifesto which a Labour colleague, Gerard Kaufman, described as ’the longest suicide note in history’ Michael Foot was in many ways in a similar position to that which Jeremy Corbyn finds himself in now with an amazingly similar approval rating of 24%.
Despite the contrasting styles of the two leaders being echoed today the policies on that ever present irritant Europe could not be more different. Margaret Thatcher, as so many of her war affected generation, was in strongly pro-European and was standing on this ticket whilst Labour was looking to withdraw completely. The Labour party was also looking, as is its tradition, for renationalisation of many industiries, higher taxes as well as the abolition of the House of Lords. These staunchly socialist policies led to a break away party, The Social Democratic Party where several prominent figures in the Labour party, known as the gang of four, broke away to form a political alliance with the Liberals. This scenario is not beyond the realms of possibility; indeed it is quite likely that we see another break away party after this election.
Mrs Thatcher duly won her mandate and increased the conservative majority by 40 seats whilst the labour party just about polled the second largest number of votes. Despite polling just under 600,000 votes less than the labour party, The SDP only managed 23 seats and as a result never really got the foothold in the country that many thought they deserved. The 4% swing to the conservative party gave Mrs Thatcher the most decisive victory since that of Labour in 1945 and allowed her to rule and introduce radical reforms which changed the UK for ever.
The parallels and contrasts between the 1983 and 2017 Election are striking not least the opportunistic calling of the election by leaders, one who saw and now one who sees an opening to strengthen their grip on authority and power. As in 1983 it appears, if the polls are to be believed that there will be another crushing victory for the Conservatives as the Labour party fights a series of internal battles whilst led by a hard left leader. However there is hope for the Labour Party and it comes from History. As another famous British Prime Minister, Pitt the Elder, said in 1770 “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” or to put it in traders language the higher you are up the tree the more you show of your arse. This was the case in 1983. Two future Labour Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were both part of the new intake in 1983 as was a fresh faced Jeremy Corbyn. Margaret Thatcher ruled for another seven years with decreasing authority and was finally deposed by an internal coup in 1990. With the minefield of Brexit to negotiate and a Conservative party never at ease with itself over Europe it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Mrs May , as did Mrs Thatcher , has sown the seeds of her own downfall.