During August 1994 there was a great amount of media speculation that the Prime Minister would call an Autumn general election. Gordon Brown appointed Nigel Griffiths, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, as the Labour Party election co- ordinator. Opinion polls consistently showed Labour leads over Conservative, and in early September, the average of the polls was a Labour lead of 9 percent over Labour, about 3 percent higher than in the June 1990 general election. Also they showed the Liberal Party at 21 percent, about half a percent higher than in the 1990 general election, and they did better in Conservative than Labour seats. Opinion polls in Labour/Conservative marginals were favourable to Labour. The cabinet were in favour of calling a general election, and Charlie Whelan, Brown's press secretary, or spin doctor, briefed the media that there would be an October election.
On Tuesday 6 September 1994, Gordon Brown announced at a media conference outside 10 Downing Street, that a general election would be held on Thursday 6 October. Parliament would be dissolved on 16 September, and meet again after the election on 18 October. Because the Boundary Commissioners had not completed their reviews, constituency boundaries would be the same as for the 1990 general election. Peter Shore, the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, was retiring from the Commons, so if Labour won the general election there would need to be a cabinet reshuffle.
A prominent feature of the Labour Party manifesto was the pledge to introduce Sure Start for pre school age children. (1) There was also the welfare to work proposal under which 18 to 24 year olds would be offered four options: subsidised work; full time education and training; work on an environmental task force; voluntary work.
In the Liberal Party Manifesto, A Real Choice , there were commitments to increase income tax by one penny in the pound to pay for increased spending on education, British entry into the European single currency, constitutional reform, and environmental priorities.
The result of the general election on 6 October 1994 was a Labour majority in the Hpuse ot Commons of 94 over all parties, up from 56 at the dissolution. Here are the number of seats won by each party (1990 general election):
Labour: 372 (354)
Conservative: 208 (238)
Liberal: 43 (33)
Ulster Unionist: 9 (9)
SNP: 6 (5)
Plaid Cymru: 4 (4)
SDLP: 4 (4)
DUP : 3 (3)
Ulster Popular Unionist: 1 (1)
Speaker: 1 (n/a)
Total: 651 (651)
Compared with the dissolution, Labour gained 20 seats from Conservative, and lost one (Falmouth and Camborne) to Liberal. The Liberals gained nine seats from Conservative, and one from Labour. It was the best Liberal result since 1929. However the Tories won back Newbury from Liberal which they had lost to them in a by-election in May 1993. The SNP took Tayside North from Conservative. Two members of the Conservative shadow cabinet lost their seats. Margaret Thatcher, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Finchley to Labour; and William Waldegrave, shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Bristol West to Liberal. George Galloway gained Leeds North West for Labour from Conservative, in a close three party contest with the Liberals in second place.
The percentage votes for each party were as follows:
Labour: 40.6 (39.8)
Conservative : 30.9 (33.7)
Liberal : 22.1 (20,6)
SNP: 1.6 (1.9)
Plaid Cymru: 0.7 (0.5)
Others: 4.1 (3.5)
Total: 100.0 (100.0)
The national swing was 1.8% from Conservative to Labour. The turnout was 74.1% , down from 78.7% in the 1990 general election.
I have decided to retcon Gordon Brown appointing Michael Meacher Chancellor of the Exchequer when he became Prime Minister. Instead he moved Frances Done from Health and Community Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Michael Meacher from Environment Secretary to Health and Community Secretary. (1) I had forgptten about Done. The other changes were as listed in post # 280 on page 14.
After the general election, Gordon Brown made the following changes to his government:
Shirley Williams from Foreign and Commonealth Secretary to Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons,
Frank Dobson from Home Secretary to Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary,
Alf Dubs from Minister of Overseas Development to Home Secretary,
Maria Fyfe from Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Women and Equalities to Minister of Overseas Development. Margaret Beckett was appointed in her place, being promoted from Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
Gavin Strang from Scotland Secretary to Defence Secretary,
Alistair Darling from Minister of Transport to Scotland Secretary,
Chris Mullin from Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Transport Secretary
Charles Kennedy from Minister of State Scottish Office to Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Chris Smith from Culture, Media and Sport Secretary to Social Services Secretary.
Tony Blair from Minister of State Home Office to Culture, Media and Sport Secretary,
Neil Kinnock from Education and Science Secretary to Minister of Housing and Local Government,
David Blunkett from Minister of State Department of Education and Science to Education and Science Secretary.
Here is the full cabinet as on 10 October 1994:
Prime Minister: Gordon Brown
Lord Chancellor: Baron Irvine of Lairg
Lord President of the Council, Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister: Shirley Williams
Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Lords: Lord Richard
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Frances Done
Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary: Frank Dobson
Home Secretary; Alf Dubs
Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food: Charles Kennedy
Culture, Media and Sport Secretary: Tony Blair
Defence Secretary; Gavin Strang
Education and Science Secretary: David Blunkett
Employment Secretary: Vince Cable
Energy Secretary: Kim Howells
Environment Secretary: John Prescott
Health and Community Secretary: Michael Meacher
Minister of Housing and Local Government: Neil Kinnock
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Women and Equalities: Margaret Beckett
Northern Ireland Secretary; Robin Cook.
To be continued.
Minister of Overseas Development: Maria Fyfe
Scotland Secretary: Alistair Darling
Social Services Secretary: Chris Smith
Scotland Secretary: Alistair Darling
Trade and Industry Secretary: Jack Straw
Transport Secretary: Chris Mullin
Wales Secretary: Win Griffiths,
Selected junior ministers:
Paymaster-General: Ann Taylor
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: David Owen
Fimancial Secretary to the Treasury: Harriet Harman
Economic Secretary to the Treasury: Dawn Primarolo
Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Ann Clwyd
Minister of State Home Office: Peter Hain
Minister of State Department of Environment: Mo Mowlam
Minister of State Department of Health and Community: Malcolm Wicks
Minister of State Scottish Office: Brian Wilson
Minister of State Department of Trade and Industry: Clare Short
Attorney-General; Sir John Morris
Solicitor-General: Sir Paul Boateng.
From Further up the Hill: The Diaries of Chris Mullin (1) :
'Saturday, 8 October 1994
Gordon phoned me. He wanted me to be Secretary of State fot Transport. I told him that I was hoping to go to Overseas Development. Either I was very persuasive, or Gordon was in an emollient mood after our general election victory, but he changed his mind and appointed me Secretary of State for Overseas Development.'
Maria Fyfe became Transport Secretary instead of Mullin.
(1) This is a fictional book. It is the next book of Mullin's diaries after OTL A View from the Foothills; The Diaries of Chris Mullin.
The North Down by-election caused by the death of James Kilfedder (Ulster Popular Unionist) took place on 15 June 1995. It was won by the Alliance Party candidate. Oliver Napier, by a majority of 1.9% over UK Unionist. The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) came third.
On Monday 19 June 1995, James Molyneux announced his intention to resign as
leader of the UUP when a new leader was elected On Friday 30 June 1995, delegates to the Ulster Unionist Council met. After three rounds of voting they elected David Trimble as leader of the UUP. In September that year he met, the Taioseach. John Bruton, in Dublin. Later he led the UUP in the All- Party negotiations.
Talks between the British and Irish governments and the political parties in Northern Ireland were chaired by the US special envoy, George Mitchell. These resulted in the Belfast Agreement, signed on Thursday 17 October 1996. (1) It was approved by two referendums in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on Friday 28 November 1996. In Northern Ireland the vote was 80.3% to 29.7% in favour. In Ireland the referendum on the constitutional amendments required by Agreement was passed by 93.8% to 6.2%.
The general election for the Northern Ireland Assembly was held on Thursday 12 February 1997. Election was by Single Transferable Vote for the 102 seats in the Assembly, six seats for each of the 17 Westminster parliamentary constituencies. The number of seats won by each party were as follows:
Social Democratic and Labour: 26
Ulster Unionist: 26
Democratic Unionist: 17
Sinn Fein: 16
UK Unionist: 4
Independent Unionist: 3
Progressive Unionist: 2
Northern Ireland Women's Coalition: 2
David Trimble (Ulster Unionist) and John Hume (SDLP) became joint First Ministers.
The general election for the Scottish Parliament was held on 5 May 1994. The number of seats won by each party were as follows (May 1990 election):
Labour: 54 ( 59)
SNP: 38 (34)
Conservative: 18 (18)
Liberal: 17 (17)
Green: 2 (1)
Total: 129 (129)
The Labour/Liberal coalition continued in office, with Donald Dewar as First Minister and Jim Wallace as Deputy First Minister and Justice Secretary.
In this TL British Railway has not been privatised, so there are no private railway companies or Railtrack.
On 2 May 1997 Michael Heseltine had a heart attack, and a tube was inserted into an artery. On 5 May he announced his intention to resign as Leader of the Conservative Party, when a new leader was elected, because of concerns about his health. The candidates for the leadership were Kenneth Clarke, Peter Lilley, John Major and Malcolm Rifkind. All four men were members of the shadow cabinet, and had been government ministers.
The first ballot was held on 10 June 1997. Only Conservative MPs elected their party leader. The number of votes received by each candidate were as follows:
Lilley was eliminated and the second ballot took place on 17 June. The result was as follows:
With Rifkind being eliminated, the result of the third ballot on 19 June was as follows:
So John Major was elected leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition. He appointed Kenneth Clarke as shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Peter Lilley as shadow Home Secretary, and Malcolm Rifkind as shadow Foreign Secretary.
When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister in July 1994, he gave operational independence to the Bank of England. That meant that the Bank would decide interest rates. Brown's financial policy as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister was that the Labour government would borrow only to invest. His watchword was prudence.
Frances Done resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer on 18 July 1997, to become a senior Director with the Audit Commission. She also resigned as Labour MP for Manchester Withington. Brown made the following changes in the subsequent government reshuffle:
Jack Straw from Trade and Industry Secretary to Chancellor of the Exchequer
Vince Cable from Employment Secretary to Trade and Industry Secretary
Mo Mowlam was promoted from Minister of State Department of Environment to Employment Secretary.
A controversial feature of the Labour government policies was public-private partnerships or PPPs. They were condemned by some people as being half way on the road to privatisation. The public sector handed over control of projects to private contractors. In return for paying capital costs upfront, they charged exhorbitant interest rates over thirty years. Gordon Brown defended them as a way of using private finds for public purposes, and were a better way of building infrastructure than the old ways of financing. (1) They were unpopular with many in the Labour Party.
The Uxbridge by-election, caused by the death of Michael Shersby, was held on 31 July 1997. It was won by the Conservatives with a majority over Labour of 35.7%, yp from 9.8% in the general election. Thst was a swing of 12.95% from Labour to Conservative. It was the first electoral test of John Major's leadership of the Conservative Party.
(1) Opinons about PPIs taken from the book My Life, Our Times by Gordon Brown, London: The Bodley Head, 2017.
The Prime Minister was heavily criticised for his tribute to Princess Diana following her death at the end of August 1997. It was felt that it did not adequately express the nation's grief. In his tribute to Diana, the Culture Secretary, Tony Blair, caught the mood of the nation. He called her 'the people's princess'. It was an open secret that Blair wanted to be leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, instead of Gordon Brown. He had his coterie of supporters in the Parliamentary Labour Party, chief of whom was Peter Mandelson. He was widely suspected of the being the source of news stories which described Brown as 'psychologically flawed'.
The Manchester Withington by-election caused by the resignation of Frances Done took place on 2 October 1997. It was won by Labour, but their majority over Conservative fell from 38.6% to 14.9%. A swing of 11.85% from Labour to Conservative.
There were heated discussions in the cabinet in February 1998 over proposals to introduce a voucher system for asylum seekers to replace cash payments, and to ban them from doing paid work or voluntary work. The cabinet agreed to all the proposals but six cabinet ministers resigned on Tuesday 24 February in protest. They were Vince Cable, Trade and Industry Secretary; Alf Dubs, Home Secretary; Maria Fyfe, Transport Secretary; Charles Kennedy, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Chris Mullin, Overseas Development Secretary; Shirley Williams, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. Also Chris Huhne, Minister of State, Department of Environment.
The Prime Minister made the following changes to his government:
Michael Meacher from Health and Community Secretary to Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
David Blunkett from Education Secretary to Home Secretary
Tony Blair from Culture, Media and Sport Secretary to Education Secretary
David Owen promoted from Chief Secretary to the Treasury to Trade and Industry Secretary
Hilary Armstrong from Minister of State Department of Environment to Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Alan Johnson from Minister of State Department of Trade and Industry to Culture, Media and Sport Secretary.
Continuation of government changes.
Malcolm Wicks from Minister of State Health and Community to Health and Community Secretary
Ann Clwyd from Minister of State Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Overseas Developnent Secretary
Margaret Beckett from Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for Women to Transport. She was replaced by Clare Short
Harriet Harman from Financial Sectetary to the Treasury to Chief Secretary to the Treasury
Dawn Primarolo from Economic Secretary to the Treasury to Financial Secretary to the Treasury
Nick Raynsford appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury.
The government's proposals were condemned by liberal newspapers such as the Guardian , the Independent , and the Observer , also by charities working with asylum seekers and refugees, and Christian Churches and other religions.
In the vote on the second reading in the House of Commons of the bill mplementing
the government's proposals, 46 Labour MPs voted against and 73 abstained. Liberal, SNP, Plaid Cymru, SDLP, and Alliance MPs also voted against. Conservative, and Unionist MPs voted with the government. The Labour rebels were called the conscience wing of the Labour Party. They were a mixture of the hard left and social democrats.