Wednesday, April 10, 2013

One Day In 1979

I don't remember 3 May 1979, as in I don't remember what the weather was like and as in I don't remember if I voted. I suppose I must have done, but if I did, I have long expunged this fruitless act from my memory. I would have voted Labour, as that's what I did, though it would have been masochistic to have voted for Callaghan. Mind you, the alternative (and not David Steel) would have required greater masochism. Margaret Thatcher was dangerous to know about. I do remember a sense of genuine fear as to what lay ahead. I can remember, on the other hand, 1 May 1997 and 2 May 1997. Both days were gloriously warm. I had been among the first to vote on 1 May. On 2 May, despite the hangover, the world suddenly seemed a very much better place after eighteen years. It seemed a better place, but how we had been fooled. That, though, is another story.

One thing is for certain. In 1979 I hadn't been in Mallorca. Had I been, on 5 May, I would have been greeted by the headline on the front page of the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" which read, "Maggie There!". And yes, there she was. On the front page of the paper and newly installed in 10 Downing Street, there was this strange woman with strangled elocution, this frightening creature who was to become the "Spitting Image" dominatrix, the one who, even before the election victory, had been causing those on the left to have convulsions brought on by anxiety and panic attacks.

Divisive. Dave has admitted that she was. And, boy, was she divisive back in 1979. The Bulletin ran a vox pop on 5 May. Opinions on the streets of Palma differed, as Gordon Rees's report showed.

One part of the Thatcher win in 1979 that may now be forgotten is the support she had from women. A Mrs. Cruttenden of Brighton told "The Bulletin" that she would have voted for Mrs. Thatcher. Would have voted? Mrs. Cruttenden was on holiday. She couldn't vote back then. It took a change to the Representation of the People Act in 1983 and a subsequent amendment to permit postal votes for those who would be on holiday at the time of a general election. Mrs. Cruttenden was not alone in voicing her support of Mrs. Thatcher. A Mrs. Dack of Nottingham said that Mrs. Thatcher seemed "straightforward". Her husband, though he felt that the Conservatives would stop the slide, was less sure. Mrs. Thatcher was the "best of two bad things".

Not all the women were as positive. Two couples - Mr. and Mrs. Sloan of Lanarkshire and Mr. and Mrs. Sanders of Manchester - were decidedly negative. Mr. Sloan spoke for Mrs. Sloan: "the country will go downhill". Neither fancied Mrs. Thatcher at all. The Sanders thought she would be a disaster for the country because she would take on the unions.

Other men, seemingly unattached to partners, expressed competing views. Mr. Barnard of Staffordshire was not a fan of Mrs. Thatcher but was nevertheless pleased that the Conservatives had won. Someone described as "an angry man who refused to give his name" offered a dismissive "huh". But a Colonel Spiro of Eastbourne was quite the opposite. He had seen a headline from the "Financial Times" about Mrs. Thatcher taking a tough line with scroungers. This was something that should have been done by Labour, declared the Colonel.

Elsewhere, and away from the streets of Palma, the president's wife at the British-American Club said that they were delighted with the results (they presumably being everyone at the club, though this might not have been the case). These results were being put up on a blackboard at the club, something that Colonel Spiro might have been interested to know about. He had complained that facilities on the island for obtaining the results could have been better and that hotels might have considered putting them up on notice boards.

And that was pretty much it for the vox pop. Only a small sample, but probably not untypical. But what a world away it seems now. No postal voting. Blackboards for writing up results. However the results were communicated though, there was no doubt. Maggie was there, and the front page said so.

(Just as a matter of passing interest and to demonstrate that Maggie's win wasn't the only news in town, on the same page as the vox pop was an item about the inaugural flight to Palma of a new charter airline. It was? Air Europe. And Air Europe was to last only a few months longer than Margaret Thatcher did as prime minister.)

*This article is an item produced for the "Majorca Daily Bulletin" that used access I have had to the paper's fifty-year archive in researching a feature on the paper's news reporting that will appear in a special supplement in May this year. So, my thanks to the paper for this access and therefore for this article.

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