'Let's give Tories a firm kick in the ballots, as we did with John Major's government'

Brian Reade says there are many parallels between politics now and in 1997 when John Major’s government was brought down by tales of sleaze. Local elections are due to take place on May 5

John Major
John Major’s Tories were seen as sleazy and out of touch

It was the night of the Great 1997 General Election Massacre.

I was reporting from the count in John Major ’s Huntingdon constituency, and as the TV showed big Cabinet beasts like David Mellor, Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind drowning in a red tide that swept Labour to a landslide victory, tearful local Tories looked lost and broken.

Which was apt, as for the previous 18 years their government had callously left people in large parts of this country feeling in a similar state.

In 1997, unemployment was twice what it had been under Labour in 1979, the number living in poverty had tripled while the wealthiest 10% had become 60% richer, one-in-five NHS hospitals had been shut, waiting lists were at a record high, and state schools had outstanding repair bills of £3.5billion.

It wasn’t just the rise in inequality they were facilitating, or their poor handling of the economy that made voters give the Tories a massive kick in the ballots, though. It was the sense that they had become sleazy, arrogant and out of touch.

Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons



We’d seen a cash for ­questions disgrace as dodgy brown envelopes were passed between Tory MPs and their cronies, and numerous sex scandals exposing Major’s phoney back-to-basics moral crusade. A stench of hypocrisy and entitlement hung over Downing Street and the British people had had enough. So they voted for change.

I sense we’re heading towards that point again. At Thursday’s local elections, voters are ready to tell Boris Johnson and his motley crew exactly what they think of them.

It will be impossible for Labour to get anywhere near the kind of ­landslide it enjoyed in 1997, not just because it has been wiped out in Scotland, has much ground to win back in the North, and the fact that the unspectacular leadership of Keir Starmer hasn’t connected the party with voters on the scale it did back then.

But pollsters still put Labour eight points ahead of Johnson’s floundering Tories and predict they could lose up to 800 council seats. It doesn’t take a genius to see why.

For cash for questions back in 1997, see the handing over of billions of pounds in Covid contracts to their friends and backers. For the stench of entitlement, see Rishi Sunak putting up taxes for the average worker when his wealthy wife avoided paying her full share through non-dom status. For personal sleaze, see Johnson and his Covid partying scene.

Indeed so embarrassed are many Tories by the shambolic liar who leads them they have removed him from their local election pamphlets.

If you want him removed permanently from No10 and you have a vote on Thursday, use it to send a message. Scores of gutless Tory backbenchers who know Johnson has misled parliament are waiting to gauge the anger of voters toward him. Leave them in no doubt.

Your vote won’t see him off. But he will be seriously wounded if hundreds of his councillors lose their seats. And thus he’ll be ripe for the final blow to be landed when Sue Gray delivers what insiders believe is a damning report into his shameless culture of deceit.

So let’s party this week like it’s 1997. Vote Labour.

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