Remember when the “Dead Parrot” struck back
Next month we’ll see the twentieth anniversary of what for me was the biggest earthquake in UK politics of my life-time – the ousting of the Conservative party’s three times election winner, Margaret Thatcher.
A few weeks earlier, on Friday October 12th 1990, the leader had received her biggest applause from her party conference in Bournemouth in response to a joke based on the famous Monty Python sketch which she linked to the state of the Liberal Democrats. The party was going through all sorts of traumas following the merger between the Liberals and the SDP.
“..Now, that brings me to the Liberal Party. I gather that during the last few days there have been some ill-natured jokes about their new symbol, a bird of some kind, adopted by the Liberal Democrats at Blackpool. Politics is a serious business, and one should not lower the tone unduly. So I will say only this of the Liberal Democrat symbol and of the party it symbolises. This is an ex-parrot. It is not merely stunned. It has ceased to be, expired and gone to meet its maker. It is a parrot no more. It has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is a late parrot. And now for something completely different…”
The polling was certainly dreadful with ICM recording shares for the yellows which were barely half those we are seeing at the moment.
|ICM Polling Aug-Oct 1990||Date||CON %||LAB %||LD%|
I doubt if Mrs Thatcher would have spoken in such a triumphalist way if she had had any intimation of the humiliation that she was to face at the hands of Ashdown’s party in the Eastbourne by-election the following Thursday.
|Eastbourne Oct 19 1990||Candidate||Votes||%||Change|
|Liberal Democrat||David Bellotti||23415||50.8||+21.1|
|Corrective Party||Lady Whiplash||216||0.5||–|
|National Front||John McAuley||154||0.3||–|
There’s no doubt that the 20% CON>LD swing set off waves throughout her party and was a key part in the narrative that led a few weeks later to Mrs. Thatcher being replaced by John Major.
At the general election eighteen months later the shares were with comparisons on the October 1990 ICM poll – CON 42.8% (36): LAB 35.2% (49): LD 18.3% (9).
I just wonder if some of the comments coming from Labour about current polling are making Mrs. Thatcher’s mistake.