13 years in the wilderness for Britain's Conservatives

5th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's main opposition Conservatives, seen as the party of government for much of the 20th century, have not been in office for 13 years. Here is a timeline of their period in opposition:

- May 2, 1997: The Conservatives suffer a landslide general election defeat by Tony Blair's Labour after 18 years in power under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Major quits as party leader.

- June 19, 1997: William Hague, Major's minister for Wales, elected Conservative leader aged just 36, with Thatcher's support.

Hague defeats highly experienced ex finance minister Ken Clarke because Clarke's pro-European views are unpopular with many Tories.

Hague initially tries to modernise the party, posing in a baseball cap with his name on it, but makes little impact. Blair's popularity is sky-high.

- June 8, 2001: The Conservatives under Hague suffer another heavy defeat by Blair's Labour at a general election. The Tory campaign stresses euroscepticism and fails to gain popular support. Hague resigns as leader.

Future Tory leader David Cameron is among the new Conservative lawmakers elected at the election.

- September 13, 2001: Iain Duncan Smith, a little-known right-wing eurosceptic backbencher, becomes Conservative leader. He lacks a power base in the party and struggles to hold his own against Blair.

- October 29, 2003: Duncan Smith ousted by his fellow MPs.

- November 6, 2003: Michael Howard, Major's hardline home secretary, elected Conservative leader. He promises to lead from the centre ground and urges the party to stop feuding.

- May 6, 2005: The Conservatives under Howard suffer a third successive general election defeat by Labour.

The Tories campaign on a platform of controlling immigration and lowering tax but again fail to appeal to centrist voters, despite falling support for Labour. Howard quits as leader.

- December 6, 2005: Cameron is elected party leader aged 39. He pledges wholesale change, highlighting environmentalism and vowing to attract more women and ethnic minorities.

- Summer 2006: Cameron hits trouble after an initial honeymoon period.

The party loses a key by-election in June and the following month, he outlines a deal for the party to leave the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament.

Cameron also makes a speech saying delinquents must be shown more "love" -- labelled "hug a hoodie" by critics.

- June 27, 2007: Blair resigns and is replaced by Gordon Brown.

The Tories initially struggle against him as Brown deftly handles a series of crises including foiled car bombings in London.

- October 6, 2007: After weeks of mounting speculation, Brown rules out a snap general election amid falling opinion polls -- and after the Tories announced a popular taxation pledge. Labour's opinion poll lead crumbles.

- May 2008: Conservative Boris Johnson beats Labour's Ken Livingstone to become mayor of London, making Johnson the most senior elected Tory in Britain. The Conservatives also snatch a key by-election win from Labour.

Summer opinion polls give Cameron's Conservatives a clear lead over Brown's struggling Labour.

- October 2008: Brown's government announces massive bailouts of banks as the world financial crisis hits.

Commentators criticise the Tory response to the crisis as uncertain -- they later oppose the government's fiscal stimulus and in return are accused of being a "do-nothing" party.

- May 8, 2009: The Daily Telegraph newspaper publishes first of its revelations on the lawmakers' expenses scandal.

Amid intense public anger, Cameron acts swiftly against Conservative lawmakers accused of wrongdoing, outflanking Brown.

- January 26, 2010: Official data shows Britain has emerged from its worst recession since World War II.

The Conservatives' long-term double digit opinion poll lead is sharply narrowed.

- April 6, 2010: Brown calls general election for May 6. The Conservatives stay ahead in opinion polls.

- April 15: the first of three unprecedented live TV gives a huge poll boost to the traditionally third-placed party the Liberal Democrats, after a breakthrough performance by their leader Nick Clegg.

- May 6: Britain goes to the polls with the Conservatives still in the lead according to opinion surveys, but a hung parliament predicted in which the Lib Dems could hold the balance of power.

© 2010 AFP

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