“Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them” as the saying goes. The accuracy of this statement is something that’s up for debate. But one thing that can’t be denied is there have been some pretty big blunders made during election campaigns over the years.
There are countless examples of both Governments and Oppositions putting their foot in it quite spectacularly in the past. So as the battle lines are drawn for the 2015 UK General Election and David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg prepare to go to war, we’re publishing a series of articles on how to lose an election…
Picture the scene. April 1, 1992. We’re one week away from the UK general election and, after 13 years in opposition, the Labour Party is ahead in the polls.
A time for cautious optimism in the Labour camp then? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, if the Sheffield Rally is anything to go by, a fair bit.
The event had been 18 months in the making. Attended by 11,000 party members, it was meant to be the British equivalent of an American-style political convention – a chance to anoint a new leader and enthuse supporters.
But what followed at the Sheffield Arena was criticised by some as over-confident triumphalism.
One by one, members of the shadow cabinet were introduced on stage as “the next Home Secretary”, “the next Chancellor of the Exchequer” and so on until finally, after arriving via helicopter, “the next Prime Minister”, Labour leader Neil Kinnock was called to make a speech.
“We’re alright!” Kinnock exclaimed to the party faithful three times. Each time slightly more cringeworthy than the last.
“This is the Labour Party. This is the party that’s going to win the election and win for our country,” he went on to say.
But it wasn’t to be. A week later the Conservative Party secured its fourth consecutive general election victory, gaining a narrow majority over Labour.
What sort of impact did the Sheffield Rally have on the result in 1992? We’ll never know for sure. Labour’s internal polls at the time suggested the event had little effect on the party’s support. Some media commentators and politicians beg to differ.
The general feeling, though, is that it certainly didn’t help. We’ll leave the final word to Mr Kinnock himself. In an interview with the New Statesman in 2010, he described the legend as “complete, bloody rubbish” but also admitted: “Given my time again, I wouldn’t repeat it.”