An excursion into electoral history: The UK general election of 1992

The year 1992 was a watershed in my life, having left childhood behind me and becoming an adolescent. I was 14 years old by then, and this year has had a particularly noticeable impact on my political maturing, since there were three electoral contests going on across the world, and all of them had caught my interest to varying degrees. Two of them, the ones in

Israel

and the

United States

resulted in a change of the guard at the top. But, the situation was slightly different in the

United Kingdom.

When you reflect on your younger self, it is sometimes difficult to grasp why certain events keep lingering on and never really let go, and the

1992 General Election

has turned out to be such an event. I was a keen consumer of the traditional news-media by then, and the British BBC still offered some programing in German which I listened to almost every single day at the time. If I remember the details correctly, they broadcast a news-program from 5:30 to 6:00 PM every evening. As if it happened just yesterday, I remember the 9th of April 1992, sitting in-front of my radio and listening to reports on the UK election. Toward the end of the program, the presenter invited listeners to tune in at 10:00 PM at night to follow the election coverage. I was almost overjoyed hearing that I could follow the counting on my radio, only to remember a few seconds later that the broadcast would not be in German but in English, and this was a language I didn’t speak at all. If you have grown up with politics all around you as I have done thanks to my little wireless, it is perhaps easier to understand how sad and frustrated I felt that night. All I could do was to wait until the early hours of the morning in order to get the results in German. What is puzzling to me is that, despite noticing the importance of the English language and the opportunities it would provide me with, I learned no lessons from that experience. I remained interested in international politics of course, but the English language never revealed itself to me until a year after I had left school, and that was still a long way off. So, even now I still marvel at the role the English language plays in my life today as the most important building-bloc of my cosmopolitan identity. In 1992, however, there were still lightyears seperating me from my future existence as a citizen of the world.

The 1992 General Election pitted

Neil Kinnock,

leader of the British Labour Party against incumbent Tory Prime Minister

John Major,

and Labour was widely expected to win. Yet, just a few yards before crossing the finish-line, the Sun Newspaper came up with its famous headline which will live in infamy for Labour supporters forever: “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.“. The narrative coming out of this election was that the Sun did Kinnock in, and I was far too young and immature to doubt and challenge this explanation at the time. Kinnock resigned from the Labour leadership a few days later, and the rest is history. It would take me almost a decade until, now a student of political science at

Queen Mary (University of London),

I had the opportunity to revisit the 1992 election from a scholarly perspective. Most scholars and serious

studies

of the 1992 election agree that the widely held belief that the Sun headline robbed Labour of its chances to win is a simplistic view, not supported by the empirical evidence out there. Rather, as polling data suggests, Kinnock was not seen as a potential leader of the country, and this trend was pretty consistent throughout the campaign. Press coverage changed voting behavior apparently only slightly. Since Labour was overconfident of winning, the truth is that most journalists and pundits missed the polling data which had already started to show a consistent downward trend for Kinnock and Labour. Sadly, though, the spin put on the 1992 election outcome prompted many in the party to avoid any confrontation with the British tabloid press, and this fear had far-reaching consequences for the process of making policy under New Labour much later. But, let’s put this issue aside for the time-being.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, as I was doing some additional research on today’s election in Israel, I happened to stumble on the program I missed out on in 1992. I found the complete and comprehensive

election coverage

broadcast on BBC1. The ghosts of my past have finally caught up with me, or perhaps vice-versa; I am not quite sure yet, but, as far as 1992 is concerned, I think I am ready to let them go now. Honestly, both politically and personally, reliving election night is quite an emotional rollercoaster. The next one, now being back in the here and now, is just a few hours away.

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