Britain Votes and Reality Waits

LONDON – I don’t mean to sound as though I am bragging, but the last time the Conservative Party won an election in Britain was 1992, when John Major was Prime Minister. The chairman of the party at the time, running the winning campaign, was me.

We won the election, but I lost my own race for a parliamentary seat and was sent off to Hong Kong as the colony’s last British governor. So I wasn’t around when the Conservative Party, losing the will to govern, tore itself apart in the mid-1990’s over Britain’s role in Europe. As Winston Churchill said, the problem with committing political suicide is that you live to regret it.

Despite piloting the economy through a post-recession recovery, Major lost to Tony Blair in 1997, ending 18 years of Conservative government and bringing a 13-year Labour run, which will probably end when Britain votes for a new government on May 6.

Blair took over a strong economic legacy, and, to be scrupulously fair, he didn’t wreck it. He and his finance minister, Gordon Brown, stuck to their predecessors’ public-spending plans, for example. In Labour’s first nine years of governing, public expenditure as a proportion of GDP was lower than in the comparable Conservative period.