Conservatives 1997 - 2005
By 2005 the party had worked it's way through three leaders - Hague, Duncan-Smith and Howard. None had proved capable of appealing to the public; Hague at 36 seemed inexperienced and too associated with Thatcher, Duncan-Smith was uncharasmatic for many and Michael Howard was still reviled for aun unsuccessful stint as Home Secretary in the 1990s. Indeed the Conservative party remained the 'nasty party' in the eyes on many. For a while the party continued to support Section 28, which appeared hostile to homosexuality and party, it seemed, remained obsessed with immigration. With only 105 MPs in parliament in 1997, the Conservatives were unable to challenge the Labour Party.
Far from damaging the Labour Party, the formation of the social democratic party in 1981 paved the way for Labour's recovery.
Between 1979 and 1992 the Labour Party lost four elections in a row, finding themselves unappealing to the electorate. Labour presented a divided imaged to the voters for most of this period and this was only highlighted by the 'gang of fours' dispersal from the party in 1981 and the formation of the social democratic party (SDP). Some historians would argue that this severely weakened the Labour party during these years, and it was only from the leadership of Kinnock, Smith and Blair that the party was able to revive itself. Other historians, as well as myself, would argue that in the short term the SDP did weaken the electability of the Labour Party, but in the long run, it provided a much needed wake up call that allowed Labour to return itself to a credible party.
Labour had been failing since 1979, following the election defeat to Thatcher and the divisive leadership of Foot. In 1981, when the SDP formed Labour was suffering badly from internal squabbling over their policies, with Foot favouring a left wing Labour party. At Labour's 1980 and 1981 conference the left of the party forced through a resolution that required all Labour MPs to seek reselection by their constituencies. Williams, Jenkins, Owen and Rodgers had not been happy with what they perceived as the Labour Party being dominated by the Unions and it's anti european stance. Initially, the formation of the Party damaged the Labour Party as it impacted upon National Politics. The SDP secured the Conservatives safe seat at Crosby in 1981 and then Glasgow Hunhead in 1982, the SDP also almost won Labour's safe seat at Warrington. These wins highlighted that there was now an alternative credible party that was made up of former Labour MPS and one concervative MP. The 1983 election saw the SDP form an alliance with the Liberal Democrats, polling only half a million less voters that the Labour Party. Thus in the short term, it appears that the SDP did weaken Labour's electability, as voters has a credible alternative to Labour.
After 1983, circumstances began to improve for Labour and it could be argue that the 1983 election defeaat demonstrated to the Labour party that it had to change. Some historians do argue that the SDP 'saved' Labour by leaving it, as it showed the party how unelectable they had become. Neil Kinnock, a more popular and moderate to the leader party was elected. in 1985 Kinnock's famous speech at the Bournemouth Party conference proved a hit with the media and the public; he formed an attack on the Militant Tendency within the Party, thus appearing as though he was an effective leader. Despite over seeing the expulsion of the Militant Tendency, a group of Trostskyites who had infilitrated the party, it was not enough to win the 1987 election. In the election, Labour polled 8% more than the Alliance did, thus showing the impact of Kinnock's leadership. The SDP alliance was losing momentum, partly due to the personal differences between Owen and Steel, nonetheless the Alliance still polled 24% of the vote. It appears that the Liberal Democrats (formed 1988) was still splitting the votes, despite the leadership of Kinnock and thus showed Labour that they had to further change in order to become electable again.
Following the 1987 defeat, Kinnock attempted to chnage the Labour Party in every direction. He took the party further to the right and made the Labour agenda clear. This tried to end oppostion to Council house salesm modify its support for nationalisation in support of vague social ownership and accept Britain's membership to the EEC. The public did not turst Kinnock due to these U turns, yet over time Kinnock made it clear that moderate socialism was the order of the day and thos who had felt compelled to leave the LAbour party in the early 1980s were now turniing back. It can be argued that SDP had no real identity or purpose once moderate socialism had returned. Thus, it appears the radical move of the 'gang of four' in 1981 had forced the Labour party to turn itself around and, once it had, the SDP lost its own momentum.
Another factor that added to Labour's recovery, other than the SDP, was the Conservative failings under Major as Critchely said, "something collapsed in the structure of the conservative party as we knew it". Following Thatcher's resignation in 1990 the Concervative party began to implode on themseleves becoming divided concerning issues around Europe.The ERM crisis in 1992 weakened the Conservatives images as a reliable Party in regards to the economy. Newspapers capitalised on this, running headlines such as "Honey i shrunk the pound," and in a general sense the media began to favour 'New Labour' under Blair, having 9/11 of the national newspapers by the 1997 election. When Blair removed clause VI it appears as though the final barrier to Labour's victory had been demolished, no longer was socialism the only way forward under Labour. Thus Labour became electable again having been pulled away from their far left wing policies that had plagued their existences in the 1980s, as the same time it could be argued that the Conservative party became unelectable.
In conclusion, it is clear that the Labour's recovery was aided by the formation of the SDP as it demonstarted how unelectable the party had become. Although,, the view that the leadership of Kinnock and Blair were a contributing factor to the revival of the Labour party has validity as it is certainly true the Labour party would never have recovered under the left wing view's of Foot. I would still argue that the most prominent factor to Labour's landslide 1997 victory was the formation of the SDP that forced Labour to remove itself from the far left image it had cultivated for itself in the 1980s in orfer to become elctable again.