First published: July 1997
The 1 May general election did not simply close 18 years of Conservative government. It brought to an end an entire era in British politics – a 111 year-long political party system based on the dominance of the Conservative Party.
This assertion may cut against the grain of the media coverage – which has been mesmerised by the scale of Labour’s majority in parliament – but it nonetheless corresponds to the facts.
On 1 May Labour won its biggest parliamentary majority in history – an overall majority of 179 seats. But it did so with a share of the UK vote, at 43.2 per cent, which does not remotely qualify as record-breaking. The party won a larger proportion of the vote in 1945, 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964 and 1966 – that is, in every single general election between 1945 and 1966. That included three elections which it lost and Harold Wilson’s 44.1 per cent in 1964 which gave him a majority of just four seats.