In February I blogged about the beauty of news in its purest form and why it is worthwhile reviewing news from the past. My main point was that when news is processed into documentaries for example after the event, that raw instant reaction and early analysis is lost. Yesterday’s broadcast of the BBC’s 1992 election coverage as live on BBC Parliament hammered this point home.
Unfortunately, I only found out about the broadcast after the moment in the coverage when Labour had conceded and just as John Major’s result in Huntingdon had been declared. This was long after the Conservative’s bellweather Basildon victory, which set the tone for the night and Chris Patten (now the BBC’s chairman Lord Patten) losing his Bath seat, despite playing a major part in his party’s overall election success. However, what I did see was a fascinating mix of analysis and predictions – some of which were way off the mark.
Despite the polls taking a drubbing after wrongly predicting the result, they did hint at some of the trends that played out in the election. Pollsters analysis of different types of voters and different seats still told some of the story of the Conservative victory even though the headline result was wrong. It was also striking how early Labour’s infamous Sheffield rally got the blame for the outcome.
Also, the interviews with politicians and pundits were revealing. Almost all seemed confident that the Conservative’s projected 17-seat majority would safely see them through the next parliament (it actually turned out to be a majority of 21 in the end). In fact, defections and by-election losses meant the party had lost its majority by 1996 and had to rely on the Ulster Unionists for support until the general election was called in spring 1997.
There was some discussion about politicians’ suitability for their jobs – mainly Labour leader Neil Kinnock who was backed by both Tony Blair in the clip above and the then MP Paul Boateng. Another politician whose role came under question was the then chancellor Norman Lamont who was defended by party colleagues. Yet little more than six months later he came under fire once again after the pound crashed out of the ERM. He was eventually fired in May 1993.
The Liberal Democrats had a mixed election night and they were equally mediocre at predicting the future. Former leadership candidate and Berwick-upon-Tweed MP Alan Beith thought that Labour would split over party renewal gaining his own party some new members. His colleague Shirley Williams predicted that defeat could lead to an imminent deal between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over proportional representation. Two decades on and we are still waiting for that.
Perhaps it is the predictions and speculation that is the most fascinating part of the analysis and as a history graduate, the thing that I am most interested in. But the opportunity to witness people like Tony Blair and Michael Portillo when they were still relatively minor players is also interesting. In fact, Blair comes across really well. It reminds me of what a refreshing presence he was prior to becoming leader – you could argue he lost some of that authenticity after succeeding John Smith.
So well done BBC parliament for your Bank Holiday election bonanza. I look forward to seeing the 1983 election in its entirety next year.