United Kingdom general election, 1992

From Academic Kids

1987 election
1992 election
1997 election

The UK general election, 1992 was held on April 9, 1992, and was the fourth victory in a row for the Conservatives.

Margaret Thatcher had been forced out of office in November 1990 and John Major, poorly regarded by some, succeeded her. During his term leading up to the 1992 elections he oversaw the British involvement in the Gulf War, abolished the much-disliked poll tax in favour of council tax and signed the Maastricht treaty. Like other leaders of major industrialized nations, he failed to halt the economy's slide into recession. Major waited until his Chancellor, Norman Lamont, had delivered a budget before announcing the date of the election on March 11. Some claimed the budget represented populist tax-cutting.


Election campaign

Labour entered the campaign full of confidence; under the leadership of Neil Kinnock the party had undergone a deep reorganisation and modernisation following the failures at the 1987 election. Most opinion polls predicted a slight Labour lead, leading to a hung Parliament (with no single party having an overall majority).

Labour and the Tories campaigned on the now traditional grounds of taxation and health care. Major became known for actually standing on a soapbox during his public meetings, while Labour's shadow chancellor, John Smith put forward a "shadow budget". It has been claimed by some commentators including Anthony Howard that the "shadow budget" the weakest part of the manifesto was designed by Smith to ensure Labour would not win and create a situation for him to take the premiership. Labour were approached by the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown seeking an alliance, Labour did not clearly commit or refuse but sent out mixed messages.

In late March, Labour's campaign was not helped by the "War of Jennifer's Ear" controversy, which questioned the veracity of a Labour party election broadcast concerning NHS waiting lists. As with the issue over John Smith's budget the Shadow Health Spokesman charged with this issue Robin Cook also had leadership aspirations.

Labour seemingly recovered from the controversy, and opinion polls on 1st April (dubbed "Red Wednesday") showed Labour in a decisive lead. But this lead was greatly diminished in the following day's polls with the decline blamed largely on the Labour Party's "Sheffield Rally": an enthusiastic American-style political convention at the Sheffield Arena.

Labour defeat

With Labour still narrowly ahead in the opinion polls, the actual election result was a surprise to many, especially in the media and polling organisations. Turnout at the election, at 77.67 %, was the highest in eighteen years. There was an overall swing of 2.2 % towards Labour, insufficient to gain them victory but something of a boost and also widening the gap between themselves and the Lib-Dems. For the Conservatives, despite the reasonable percentage of votes received (only 0.5 % down on 1987), the actual Conservative majority was only 21 seats and that became progressively smaller across Major's term in office. By the following election in 1997, Major was effectively running a minority government. Nine government ministers had lost their seats as well as the party chairman, Chris Patten.

On the morning of polling day, the Sun newspaper (which had consistently supported the Conservatives throughout the campaign) had published a controversial front page with the headline "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights." Many commentators believed that this caused a late swing to the Conservatives sufficient to overcome Labour's poll lead. The Sun certainly thought so and their story on the election results was headlined "It's the Sun wot won it." Tony Blair also accepted this theory of Labour's defeat and has put considerable effort into securing the Sun's support for New Labour, both as Leader of the Opposition before the 1997 general election and as Prime Minster afterwards. Other commentators give the Sun a less important role, and suggest that the opinion pollsters simply got it wrong. A third theory is that the "triumphalism" of the Sheffield rally was to blame, because it was unpopular with voters, seeming to pre-judge their votes, and it gave the air of fait accompli, also reducing turnout of Labour voters. It turned out that there were only two seats in the country where the size of the majority could be affected by the number of Sun readers, one of these seats was Basildon.

One thing which has been drawn attention to, which many have apparently overlooked, is that polls conducted during polling day itself seemed to confirm what had previously been expected (viz a hung parliament with Labour having most seats), until quite late in the day, when a sudden swing to the Conservatives became apparent. Thus, evidently those people voting early in the day were likely to vote Labour (which had been expected), whereas those voting late would vote Conservative. This has led to claims of electoral irregularity, with improper influence being exerted on voters; and even to some people advocating reform of the electoral system.

Kinnock, having twice led his party to defeat, resigned soon after the election; he was accompained by the deputy leader, Roy Hattersley. They were succeeded by John Smith and Margaret Beckett.

Other parties

The Labour Party were not the only disappointed participants of the 1992 Election. In Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP) had high hopes of making a major electoral breakthrough. They had run a hard campaign with Free by '93 their slogan, and support for independence polled at 50% in one newspaper poll shortly before the election.

In the end though the SNP only held onto the three seats they won at the 1987 General Election and lost the Govan seat that they had won in 1988 with their deputy leader Jim Sillars as candidate. The number of seats they had hoped to win had been significantly higher and the outcome proved extremely disappointing to many, not least Sillars who quit active politics with a parting shot describing the Scottish electorate as 'ninety minute patriots'.

The one major upside for the SNP was that they managed to increase their vote by 50% compared with 1987.

The election also saw a small change in Northern Ireland as the Conservatives organised and stood candidates in the province for the first time since the Ulster Unionist Party had broken away. The fringe Natural Law Party also stood on an all-UK basis. However the hoped for breakthrough did not materialise for either party.

Margaret Thatcher, Denis Healey, Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe, Michael Foot, David Owen and Merlyn Rees were all prominent retirees.


Electorate 43,275,316
Turnout 33,614,074
Seats 651

Party Votes Seats Loss/Gain Share of Vote (%)
Conservative 14,093,007 336 - 40 41.9
Labour 11,560,484 271 + 42 34.4
Liberal Democrats 5,999,384 20 - 2 17.8
SNP 629,564 3 1.9
Ulster Unionist 271,049 9 0.8
SDLP 184,445 4 + 1 0.5
Green 170,047 0 0.5
Plaid Cymru 156,796 4 + 1 0.5
Democratic Unionist 103,039 3 0.3
Sinn Féin 78,291 0 - 1 0.2
Alliance (NI) 68,665 0 0.2
Liberal 64,744 0 0.2
Natural Law 62,888 0 0.2
Popular Unionist 19,305 1 0.1
Workers 4,359 0 0.1
Independent Unionist 2,256 0 0.0

See also MPs elected in the UK general election, 1992. Template:British electionssv:Valet i Storbritannien 1992


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