I was over at the University library yesterday doing some research and as I was walking back to my car I remembered being in exactly that spot 16 years ago to the day. It was the 10th April 1992 and the morning after the general election. I had been up all night - first at the count and then later at a party. I was a first year undergraduate and it was the first election I had been fully involved in (although I did canvass in 87 as a boy). It was a morning of mixed emotions. We had failed to hold the Southampton seat of Chris Chope by some 500 votes but we had won the general election. That morning I bumped into one of the Labour students who is a friend to this day. I had expected him to be despondent. Conversely he was very cheerful. He informed me that in his judgement this was a disaster for the Conservatives. Our majority would ebb away and Labour would win next time and be in for a generation. This struck me as odd.
It has been going round in my head of the last 24 hours. There are so many 'what ifs' in life. What if Labour had won and Kinnock had to deal with the ERM disaster? Would the Conservatives have been back quickly? Would Blair have happened?
Late in 2002 Lady Thatcher came to Hampshire to speak at a dinner for me. Taking her round at the reception one of the guests asked her what was her greatest achievement. She replied, "Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds." But in a very real sense that only happened between 1992 and 1997. The 1992 Labour proposition to the country was very different from the 1997 offering. And that was due to the defeat of 1992. The Conservative government of 1992-1997 by simply sitting there and existing forced Labour to change.
Margaret is certainly right that the 1979 victory made history. But in a funny way so to did the 1992 win. It ensured that socialism was off the agenda and the middle of the road had been firmly moved to the right. Winning in 1992 and the events that unfolded almost certainly explain why we have been in the wilderness for years so I would argue that it would have been in the Party's interest to lose. However given that it forced Labour to change it was probably in the country's long term interests that we won. And 16 years on it would seem now to be in the country's interest that we win again.