Election '97: Poll leads raise spectre of the rout of 1945

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The Independent Online
Only twice this century have the Conservatives been routed on a scale suggested by today's opinion polls.

In 1945, the Tories were reduced to just 213 MPs. Labour, led by Clement Attlee, won 393 seats and a majority of 146. But six years later, the Labour Government was out of power.

In 1906, the Tories were cut to 157, with the Liberals under Henry Campbell- Bannerman winning by a margin of 130 seats. The Tories were out of power until the wartime coalition of 1915.

If today's Independent/Harris poll reflects how people vote, Labour would have a majority of 177 and the Tories would be left with 184 seats.

Tony Blair said on Monday: "This is not a landslide country." He could not be more wrong. For the purposes of tonight's electronic swingometer, the BBC has defined a landslide as a majority of 100 seats or more. On this definition, nine of this century's 25 general elections have been landslides.

Apart from the Liberals in 1906 and Labour in 1945, the remaining seven have all been Tory victories. The Marquis of Salisbury won a majority 134 in the 1900 "khaki election" during the Boer War. Stanley Baldwin won a majority of 223 in 1924, the election which saw the demise of the Liberal Party.

The Tories had a notional majority of 331 in 1931, although Ramsay Macdonald was Prime Minister of the National Government, which itself had a majority of 493. Mr Baldwin was back with a majority of 249 in 1935. Harold Macmillan also had a majority of exactly 100 in 1959. Harold Wilson in 1966 was just short with a 96 majority. And then Margaret Thatcher won by 144 in 1983 and 102 in 1987.

What is intriguing is that both the 1906 and 1945 anti-Tory landslides marked new beginnings in the country's political history. The 1906 Liberal Government levied progressive taxation to pay for the start of the welfare state, including the introduction of the old age pension.

The 1945 Labour Government built the "cradle to grave" welfare state (to a blueprint by the Liberal Sir William Beveridge), including the National Health Service.

Tory landslides, on the other hand, have tended to be endorsements of what went before. The Tories won the 1979 election, which marked the beginning of the Thatcher revolution, by a majority of 45 seats, and only went on to win landslides later.