Britain's 9m `disappeared'

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The Independent Online
Last month, the Conservatives were still the sort-of government. Fourteen million people had voted them into power. Where are those supporters now? Where, particularly, are the nine million who voted Conservative again just 10 days ago, in a vain attempt to stem the Labour tide? It has become impossible to find anybody who admits loyalty to the Tory cause. Everybody wants to share in the glory of the new dawn. "Conservative, moi?" could be the bashful cry, even from those who placed a discreet Tory X on the ballot sheet. We are all, it seems, New Labour now. When Margaret Thatcher vanquished Labour in 1979, the party's supporters wore indignant badges: "Don't blame me - I voted Labour." Equally, when Thatcher was ousted in 1990, her supporters were vocal in her defence. Now the losing party appears to be friendless.

The pattern is familiar. When Communism collapsed in eastern Europe in 1989, it turned out that nobody had ever really been a Communist. Party members of 30 years' standing would welcome the arrival of democracy and eloquently describe their fight to change the one-party system from the inside. In South Africa, after the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990, it turned out that the entire white establishment were in fact secret ANC sympathisers. They had always understood (they claimed at nodding- dog dinner tables) that the apartheid system had to end.

So, just as Communist apparatchiks always loved Vaclav Havel, and South African whites always admired Nelson Mandela, the entire population of Britain believed it was "ready for a change". One problem, though. Who will the new Conservative leader lead?