A lesson from political history for our political future

Margaret Thatcher campaigning in 1979

There’s a curious consistent difference between how periods of political rule seem when people paint broad-brush pictures of political history and how they felt at the time.

It’s that periods seen as consistently dominated by one party or leader often felt far more fragile when lived through. And periods of brief and fragile power often seemed to be the start of ages of dominance at the time.

Take the run of four Conservative election victories, putting the party in power from 1979 until 1997. There were many periods within that when the Conservatives seemed on the back foot, unpopular and likely to lose the next general election. Twice recessions triggered that as did various Alliance surges along with crises such as that over Westland Helicopters.

Likewise, what can appear to be an imminent period of dominance can swiftly disintegrate. Indeed, that’s what happened to the Conservatives after that fourth general election victory in 1992, with people speculating that they were now permanently in power. Within months, the ERM crisis changed all that.

Or to take an example from another country, the long period of rule by Conservative Stephen Harper in Canada seemed much more prone to ending during those years than the long stretch in power now makes it look.

I was reminded of this by Nick Barlow’s tweet:

Of course, the regular incompetence of the early days of the Johnson administration wasn’t followed by election defeat in December.

Even so, political history is a reminder that our political future is still very much up for grabs, starting in May.


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