Introduction: Stability, Crisis or Decline?
Is British politics in the 1990s different from the 1980s? As one event piles upon another, and a long train of issues successively dominate the news headlines, it is easy to emphasise the extent of change. Add in some circulation of political personalities, with Thatcher and Kinnock displaced by Major and Smith respectively, and a certain stylistic alteration in the political scene is inevitable. On the other side, it is also easy to point to evidence of continuity, notably the Conservatives’ fourth election victory in April 1992 on a programme of consolidation, and the consequent continuation of many policies. But behind both these sets of symptoms, the underlying shape of British politics and the basic health of its political system are more disputed than ever before. The scope for conflicting interpretations was highlighted in autumn 1992, when the Major government’s honeymoon period was dramatically curtailed as its economic strategy collapsed and its political stability was rocked by a succession of policy disasters. We review three longer-term interpretations of the fundamental situation of the British political system, the implications of which can be traced out in many of the chapters in this volume.
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