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23 May 2008

Major is not the model

The Labour Party is in serious trouble if it is looking to John Major for comfort in the wake of the

By Martin Bright

I knew the game was up when people around Gordon Brown started to talk about the John Major parallels. The former Tory leader had some whopping great by-election defeats in the run-up to the 1992 election, but still managed to pip Neil Kinnock in the end. I must say I think the Labour Party is in serious trouble when it starts to look to John Major as a role model. For a start, David Cameron is no Neil Kinnock. In this game of political parallels, government spinners have been at pains to play down the idea that Cameron is the Tories’ Tony Blair, preferring to liken him to the Labour Party’s Welsh “nearly man”.

But none of this really washes after Crewe and Nantwich. The Labour Party now finds itself in a unique position. The swing was nearly 18%, which is admittedly (28%) not as bad as some of John Major’s by-election defeats in the early 1990s. But these defeats at Ribble Valley (25 % swing), Newbury (28%) and Christchurch (35%), where all to the Liberal democrats.

But this is the first time in 30 years that the Tories have taken a seat from Labour. Tamsin Dunwoody was gracious in defeat, but she was wrong to suggest that the defeat was largely down to getting out the Tory vote that had previously stayed at home. The chilling fact is that former Labour voters are now switching to the Tories. Perhaps a more telling parallel would be the 1997 Wirral South election when the seat went from the Conservatives to Labour on a 17% swing.

Political comparisons have been flying around even since Gordon Brown came to power. I’ve indulged in a fair amount myself: is the Prime Minister more of an Eden than a Macmillan or more of a Callaghan than a Wilson? In reality he is Brown. As the local elections and now Crewe and Nantwich demonstrate: that is the problem.

There was a time when the Brown circle liked to talk about their man as the new Harold Macmillan, who took over as Prime Minister from Anthony Eden in 1957 and led the Conservative Party to victory two years later. He would do well now to heed Macmillan’s words: “Power: It’s like a Dead Sea fruit. When you achieve it, there is nothing there.”

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