As we near the end of the current electoral cycle I want to ponder great elections I have known. Being a 'Brit' it's going to be Anglo centric but what the heck? It'll be a trip down memory lane for those of you who have even the slightest clue what I'm on about and perhaps a small education for my American readers.
My earliest memory of an election would have to be Margaret Thatchers landslide of June 1983. Having just biffed the Argentine junta down in the South Atlantic the heroically unpopular premier of only a year or two earlier whipped the country into a frenzy of patriotic commie/foreigner bashing that would make the current Bush look like Howard Dean. The similarities don't end there, the opposition was led by the marvelous Michael Foot, well into his sixties and with flowing white hair, walking stick and duffle coat not to mention a passionate socialist agenda he was, alas an easy target for the Thatcherites. The Labour manifesto for that election has been described as "the longest suicide note in electoral history". What did Michael Foot say about his much mocked sartorial choice? "It was a cold day and I liked that coat".
As for personal memories of this time I was busy watching Manchester United beat Brighton in the FA cup final (British elections tend to be held in the spring or early summer) so the politics pretty much passed me by. I do remember my mother (daughter of a communist) being a bit pissed off.
In the autumn of 1984 a new kid started middle school. Matthew Salmon shuffled around the school hall at lunchtime looking for somewhere to sit. He set down next to me as I munched on my meat pie and chips with peas and lots of salad cream. I think I mumbled a brief hello. He asked me who I thought would win the upcoming US election, his money was on Walter Mondale. I got on pretty well with "salmon" after that.
By the time the British election of June 1987 came round I was an emerging teenage socialist in the most intensely annoying mould. I despised Thatcher (still do but at least I have some idea about why) and thought the answer lay with Neil Kinnock's modernizing Labour party. In rural Norfolk it was still a wee bit risky to be an out and out Labour supporter. To my knowledge in 1987 Norfolk had only one labour MP out of about eight constituencies and was very much in the grip of the old guard of shire conservatives. Another Thatcher landslide. Thanks for your help Bowles. The day after the election I was buying some candy in a store when the owner started raving to a friend about Thatcher. Thus begun the first in a long line of business boycotts based upon irregular political convictions or staff rudeness.
1990 doesn't really count but I can't not mention the passing of Thatcher's political career. I was in a politics A level class when fellow crypto socialist Helen Stayte burts into the class full of seventeen year olds shouting "she's resigned!!" After an impromptu chorus of "ding dong the bitch is gone" we all went off to find junior Tory Kelvin Rashbrook as there was a schoolwide rumour that he was in tears.
1992 gave me my first real experience of electoral politics. Up to this point it was all rather like self abuse. In the Abbey Hall, Wymondham, electoral constituency of South Norfolk on April 9th I lost my political virginity. Some years later I was talking to a colleague from Chile. She had fled the Pinochet regime and had married an Englishman. It was her first chance to vote, ever. She had expressed some bemusement about the stubby little pencil and the postcard sized ballot paper. It's a bit of an anti climax really.
Of course, being old enough to vote means you're old enough to get smashed while watching the results on TV. The country decides but the fucking country decided to keep the sodding Tories in power. A crushing blow, a real bucket of cold water thrown over the passions of political youth. Not only that but my desire to gather the news with fellow lefties meant that I'd gone to my sailing club with a few friends. The sailing club with NO TV! We huddled around a transistor radio into the early hours as the horrible truth of clutching defeat from the jaws of victory became apparent.
The next day came with a massive hangover of both electoral and beer induced proportions. I sat in the Thurne Lion in with Bookham (he of Wisdom weasel fame) and Milo and decide that the only sensible thing to do would be to get shitfaced.
At least America did something right (remember those days?)
In November of that year they elected Bill 'you know you want to' Clinton and we all loved him pretty much for eight years. (Hey, I didn't have to live with him).
Kinnock was replaced by John Smith as John Major's Government bumbled, groped and generally buggered everything up for the next five years. If you ever want an example of a fundamentally incompetent Government, ask anyone who live in the UK between 1992 and 1997. From April 10th 1992 it was clear that Labour would win the next election. It may sound like a glib statement full of the beauty of hindsight but it's still a reasonably accurate assessmen. By the spring of 1997 you could have put red rosette on a chimp and he would have won.
Let's look back to the spring of 1994. It was with real shock that we learned of John Smith's fatal heart attack in May 1994. A lot has been said about what kind of Prime Minister Smith would have been. Much, often in the form of thinly veiled attacks on his sucessor, Tony Blair. All I will say is that John Smith was a good man, an honourable and decent man and there are far too few such people in public life. I can't hypothesise about his stance on Iraq or his relationships with foreign leaders, all I can say that there are times when I miss him deeply and I wonder about what could have been.
Blair took the leadership of the Labour party after a deal was done (or not?) with Gordon Brown. He easily defeated John Prescott and Margaret Beckett and in July of 1994 it became apparent that the next Prime Minister was a schoolboy.
Let's fast forward to March 1997, John Major calls the election and the inevitable soon takes place. John Major is no longer Prime Minister, replaced by Blair who will take office just as soon as he's finished his homework. I recall seeing an interview with Major a few days before the election. Forget about Nixon in 1960, John Major looked absolutely shattered. I wondered how on earth the interview had been allowed to take place. The Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was a living wreck. The day after the election John Major did what he loved doing most, went to a cricket match at The Oval and got a bit drunk. It was later said that the Tories had quite an easy campaign, people were reasonably friendly towards them as the public had had five years to make up it's mind and noone took them seriously anymore. It was as if the country had got drunk in 1992 and woken up with the ugly girl from the grocery store. Perhaps the memory of last time still haunted us but she had a nice personality so there's no need to be horrible about it.
It was a bloody landslide, the Tories were obliterated, reduced to a rump. It was fantastic!
The country woke to a new dawn, it was our 'velvet revolution' , the intellectual elite rather than the old money was in charge.
Much that has happened since is well documented and we can all see how office has turned Blair from the school boy into an elder statesman unrivalled in terms of global gravitas (but what about the hospitals Tony?)
So we'll be going to the polls again sometime soon, once the dust has settled from the innaugeration of rither Kerry or Bush I'll be looking east, across the Atlantic, the next one should be along soon.
I just want to mention the 2001 election. I voted Liberal. John Prescott , the deputy PM twatted a mulleted anti government protester and on election day nothing changed. I was fairly happy with that. I was especially happy that Prescott got into a fight with a right wing hill billy.
Dick Cheney's foul mouth? Give me Two jags and his left hook anytime.
Thank you for listening.