08 April 2007

Blasts from the past

According to the Sunday Herald, Wendy Alexander is preparing for a Leadership bid, should Jack McConnell be drummed out of office come May 4. Rumour has it that Andy Kerr is also preparing a 'dream ticket' bid with Margaret Curran's Hands standing as his Deputy, and that Tom McCabe is ruling himself out. There are also mutterings that Iain Gray might well stick a bid in, once he's back in the Chamber. Leaving aside the fact that Alexander's position looks precarious (a good number of polls show a sufficient swing for Alexander to lose Paisley North), and that Kerr's position is even weaker, when was the last time that outright jockeying for a Party Leadership had begun before 1) the election had been held and 2) the Leader had gone?

Surprisingly, the answer isn't the 2005 Chapter of the Blair-Brown saga, where the men managed to affect a show of unity, but the 2001 Conservative Campaign, where Michael Portillo never missed a chance to be interviewed in front of a Labour poster depicting then Tory leader William Hague as a schoolboy. As for a Party in government? It's the Tories again, four years earlier.

But that's not the only blast from the past: the Sunday Mail are suggesting that this is the SNP's 1992, comparing Alex Salmond to Neil Kinnock. Certainly there are parallels: Labour enjoyed a healthy poll lead for most of the '92 Campaign, but faced a hostile press, particularly the Sun. The SNP (with the exception of the Herald's mruk poll, which is starting to look like a rogue) are enjoying a reasonable lead and the press are hostile, particularly the Record. Even the Scotsman has tried to dress a five and four percent lead for the SNP as a 'reality check' that halted the SNP's advance. The Tories had been in power for thirteen years, and it would be another five before voter fatigue finally set in: Labour have been in Downing Street for just ten, and leading the Scottish Executive for eight.

But does that tell the whole story? The Leader in Downing Street, Tony Blair, is as divisive a figure as Margaret Thatcher was in 1990. When Michael Heseltine challenged her, he claimed that he had a better chance of leading the Tories to victory in the following election than she did. Of course, we'll never know if that was the case, but the opinion polls at the time, with their huge Labour leads, would bear that out. Blair is Labour's Thatcher, but unlike in 1992, he hasn't gone yet. He's still there causing division amongst his own ranks, let alone the public. Could Thatcher have led her Party to victory in 1992? We don't know: it was John Major who led the Tories during the '92 Campaign, and he did lead them to a victory, albeit a narrow one. Is there a John Major parallel?

Step forward, Jack McConnell, a man settled to the dull, grey 'Don't rock the boat' style of leadership that suited John Major so well (or would have done if his Cabinet colleagues weren't too busy pressing the self-destruct button and wrestling for ideological control of the Tory Party). It's what people wanted in 1992, after the divisive Thatcher years and an opposition that people still weren't certain about. Major represented stability, as McConnell did in 2003, just over a year into the job (as Major was in '92) and trying to calm and stabilise a chaotic situation after becoming Labour's third Leader in Scotland in the first Session of the Parliament. His 'do less, but better' approach is one Major would probably have liked.

The problem is, McConnell played that card in 2003. Four years have elapsed since then, and Major's appearance of calm stability looked like a dull, uninspired fatigue by 1997. His Cabinet colleagues by then knew defeat was coming, and were planning for life after Major. It seems that Labour is now looking at life after McConnell.

The SNP will not enjoy a Blair-style landslide: the voting system mitigates against that, and even if they are the largest party by some way, they'll still need to find allies. There are hints of many past campaigns this time around, which is why comparisons with any one of them just don't work. This campaign is unique: the factors at work this time are not the factors of 1992, 1997, 1999, 2001 or 2003. Soon we will know what the real mark of the 2007 campaign is, but it'll take hindsight for that.

1 comment:

Richard Thomson said...

Very shrewd.