Margaret Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in 1990 and was replaced by the dull John Major. It seemed almost certain that the Tories would lose the 1992 General Election. In fact they held on narrowly, in no small measure due to the vicious media campaign against Labour Party Leader, Neil Kinnock. “It was the Sun Wot Won It”..
Yet on reflection, it was an election they would maybe have preferred to lose. John Major (1992-1997) presided over a Government that was mired in sleaze. And hopelessly divided. The British Electorate realised that they had made a massive mistake in 1992….and the Labour Party, now styling itself “New Labour” won a landslide under Tony Blair (later Tony B Liar) in 1997.
It is inevitable that in any election, big names lose seats but in a landslide….as the results came pouring in …..one Tory minister after another fell. It was not so much a simple declaration of results. It was the unrestrained glee of those watching the declarations. I half expected defeated Tory aristocrats to be put on tumbrils and led to the guillotine.
The most hated Tory was Michael Portillo, Thatcherite and ambitious and a plotter. He was MP for Enfield Southgate, in the North London suburbs. The only remarkable thing about Enfield-Southgate is that it was Portillo’s constituency. Most times that I am in London, I travel thru Southgate and impossible to do so without thinking of Election Night 1997.
The question, next day was “were you still awake for Portillo?”. Circa 4am on Election night, it was already clear that the Tories were losing heavily. But British Election Declarations are cruel. Some hours earlier it had been speculated that a Tory defeat would lead to Majors resignation as Leader of the Party and that Portillo was probably the successor.
But …he lost Enfield-Southgate and despite a short comeback as a MP, he is now out of politics…a political commentator and TV Presenter.
Actually I thought Portillo took his defeat rather well. I hate it when my enemies show dignity in defeat. I much prefer it when they rant and rave about the unfairness of it all. So I tend not to think about the Michael Portillo “moment”. I much prefer to think of the Election Declaration at Putney and the unseemly exchanges between defeated David Mellor and his nemisis “Sir” James Goldsmith.
So I am indebted to “Sir” Malcolm Rifkind, who has today resigned as a MP. He had actually intended to stand for re-election in May but being recorded saying unwise things like “I am self-employed” and offering himself to a Chinese lobby group….a fictional one….and referring himself to the Standards Committee and it unlikely to report before May….was the cause of his downfall.
He does not seem pleased. Indeed he “denies any wrongdoing” but there “may be some errors of judgement”. Just how often these two phrases have been used in the same sentence in recent years is amazing.
I am not a big fan of journalists “door stepping” . It all seems a bit tacky. G uy leaves his house. Microphones. Cameras. Provocative questions designed to get a response. Most victims seem to respond with a dignified “no comment” or an unseemly sprint down the street. Rifkind was churlish and boorish. More a Mellor moment than a Portillo moment.
Its always pleasing to see a Tory in the metaphorical gutter.
But Rifkind being there is a bit surprising.
He is after all a “Right Honourable”. A knight of Mrs Windsors Realm. A member of the distinguished Order of St Michael and St George (I have no idea what that is but it says so on Wikipedia). And he is a “QC” (Queens Council….a senior barrister-lawyer). I dont know if his speciality is Criminal Law but I always thought that he deployed all the tools of the lawyer trade when he was interviewed on TV News. Usually he was good in a bluffy kinda way….representing his client, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Michael Howard etc…..as if he was appearing in a Glasgow Court, pleading that his client Archie “Axe Man” MacTavish is a legitimate business man, who denies any wrong doing.
What happens next? Well Rifkind is now officially self-employed and will do ok using his parliamentary experience to serve on boards and lobby for clients. In a couple of years, he will be elevated to the “House of Lords”. Jack Straw, a certainty to have been given a peerage in May, will have to couple of years.
But overall, MPs zealously guard their reputations. No doubt he will be given glowing testimonials by colleagues on tonights News. But really his reputation is in tatters.