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BBC News Vote 2001 Vote2001 | Audio Video 
Election Battles 1945-1997
Intro 1945 1950 1951 1955 1959 1964 1966 1970 1974
1979 1983 1987
1992: Major confounds the polls

1992: Thatcher resigns
Thatcher was ousted by her own MPs

Watch and listen 1992
Election results from the Today Programme
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The poll tax riots in London
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BBC Radio’s newsflash of Margaret Thatcher’s resignation
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John Major gets on his soapbox
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Labour in triumphant mood at the Sheffield Rally
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Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown on the campaign trail
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Key events
1987 Stock market crash
1989 Poll tax introduced in Scotland
1989 Labour Euro election success
1990 Poll tax riots
1990 UK joins ERM
1990, Nov, Thatcher resigns Major becomes PM
1991, Jan, Gulf War
1991 Council tax replaces poll tax
1991 Collapse of Soviet Union

The changes in the political landscape between 1987-1992 were dramatic.

By the late 1980s an increasingly strident Margaret Thatcher was beginning to be seen as an electoral liability by her colleagues - with policies like the poll tax causing the party to haemorrhage support.

Disagreements with Chancellor Nigel Lawson saw him resign in 1989, and when Geoffrey Howe too resigned in 1990, citing her style of leadership as one of his main reasons for quitting, Thatcher's premiership was fatally wounded.

Her inability to see off a leadership challenge from Michael Heseltine forced her resignation, with chancellor John Major emerging from the tussle as her eventual successor.

With one stroke the Conservatives had freed themselves of much of the negative baggage of the Thatcher years, and could face the upcoming election with reasonable expectations of success.

The change between Thatcher and Major wrong-footed Labour, with Neil Kinnock later calling her his party's "greatest electoral asset".

Nevertheless, Labour modernisation continued apace, with the party making peace with the UK's membership of the European Union, the market economy, ditching unilateralism and moving away from firm commitments on re-nationalisation.

The Tories were not the only party to receive a new leader. In 1988 the Liberals and the SDP voted to merge, and Paddy Ashdown was elected leader in July.

After a slow start the Liberal Democrats, as they became known, pulled off several by-election coups, starting in Eastbourne.

Taken as a whole, all three main parties were in good heart and full of expectations for the battle ahead.