Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Thatcher Thirty Years On - Part 2, the Results Programme

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday watching Decision '79, the programme that brought us the news that Mrs Thatcher was going to be our first woman Prime Minister, which was repeated on BBC Parliament. At least I had the excuse of being ill for so doing - but my Twitter feed tells me that I was not alone and there were other sad political geeks of all persuasions doing the same.

In some ways, it was good to re-watch her triumph with the appropriate emotion of absolute horror rather than the innocent, idealistic hope I felt at the time.

Here are some of my highlights and observations:

Robin Day (who is a much superior form of life to Smarmy Dimbleby) was sitting there smoking a lighted cigar. On the telly!

There were snow flurries on polling day - in May, and not just in Scotland. See, even the elements knew the cataclysm that was coming.

There was much excitement about the new computer, which seemed to take up the whole of the back of the studio, which produced what was then revolutionary new graphics - bar charts and the like. David Butler argued with it at one point and was proved wrong and had to apologise. A geek in a polo neck with a beard was talking about how it would be decades, maybe not in his lifetime, before we all had a computer in our houses and could use it to vote.

Dunbarton East was the most marginal seat in the country and the Liberal vote of 4600ish was similar to Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson's majority in 2005. It's worth mentioning that this is a seat which has twice in the last 35 years elected young women in their 20s.

Scotland clung to Labour in 1979 like a security blanket against the bitter wind of the anti devolution Tories, which explains why that election was such a bad one for the SNP. Now that we have Holyrood, I doubt we'll see a similar effect at the next election.

I cried when Jeremy Thorpe lost his seat. It seemed very unfair.

Lost deposits cost the Liberal Party £40,000. Ouch!

There didn't seem much attempt at fluffiness and friendliness from any of the politicians towards their interviewers - they didn't hide their contempt, almost at being questioned, even by Robin Day and even the winners were downright rude on occasion. Keith Joseph more or less told Sir Robin to shut up and mind his own business at one point. They really did seem a world apart from the people. They appeared for the press when they wanted to - totally different from the 24 hour news cycle these days.

I remember Richard Stilgoe as being quite funny, but the song he produced on the morning after programme was truly dire.

PM Jim Callaghan's count was disrupted by a fellow candidate who persistently heckled him supporting the Troops Out movement. Imagine that happening today - the woman would probably have been locked up and subjected to a control order, but Callaghan, although annoyed by it, was very gracious and gave her the microphone. Even at a time when there was a very real threat of terrorism, and, remember, Airey Neave a Tory front bench spokesman, had been murdered just a few weeks before, there was a sense of tolerance of dissent.

By 1979, the sartorial excesses of the decade - sideburns, kipper ties and collars the size of surf boards - had faded more than I had remembered. The only really hideous sight was the Tory rosettes the size of dinner plates.

UPDATE much later having watched the rest of the daytime programme:

John Cole, who would later be the much loved BBC political editor, was on making some, frankly, rubbish predictions as to who would be in the Cabinet - plumped for Pym over Carrington for Foreign Secretary, suggested Heath for Northern Ireland or even for a specially made position on Europe. Like that was ever going to happen. He was also wearing a striped blue and white shirt with a patterned brown tie. Horrid. But I enjoyed watching him.

Why did the Liberals not have a candidate in North Angus and Mearns against Alick Buchanan Smith?

Most of the Labour people were really gracious and pleasant in defeat, especially Callaghan. He seemed to be a good man.

And the other one is going to get a posting all to herself.

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Stephen Glenn said...

Considering that £40,000 was at £100 a seat not the current £500 that makes even worse reading.

Caron said...

The threshold was 10%, though.

However, we didn't stand candidates everywhere so that makes it worse again. And Robin Day pointed out that it was our third best performance in 50 years.

Martin Pierce said...

Small factual correction - the deposit then was £150 and the threshold was 12.5%. Apologies for election geekery - I am on sorry I missed this being on in 2009 and that it wasn't repeated on the 35th anniversary

Caron Lindsay said...

Thanks, Martin.


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