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1992: Major confounds the polls

1992: Paddy Ashdown
Ashdown takes the Lib Dems into their first campaign

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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Although caricatured brutally in the press as being grey, or wearing his underpants over his trousers, John Major's personality was a clear bonus to the Tories' chances of being returned to office.

He consistently appealed to more voters than his party did. His change of approach, as much as any change of policy since Thatcher, helped put the Tories back on course.

Major, 47 when he became prime minister, had never been to university and he had shared many common experiences with the public. He had experienced a period of unemployment, and had been turned down for a job as a bus conductor. Citing the Little Chef as a favourite place to eat, he made a virtue of his ordinariness.

His refusal to be packaged, in the same manner as Neil Kinnock or Margaret Thatcher had been, also added a certain homely sincerity to his character that chimed with some voters.

Kinnock, taking Labour into his second campaign as leader, was by now at the head of a disciplined and well marshalled and party, with changed policies and little remaining from the Foot era.

As in the previous election his personality, policies and leadership were savaged in the tabloid press. Their baiting of the Labour leader was such that The Sun newspaper claimed to have tipped the balance for Major on its own.

With the bulk of the Liberal and the SDP members voting to merge their two parties Paddy Ashdown became the leader of the new third party which, after much debate, christened itself the Liberal Democrats.

Ashdown, a former marine and member of the Special Boat Service was fluent in Mandarin. He was a vigorous and energetic personality.

He proved a decisive leader who managed to build up a strong base from the dispirited ruins that the Alliance parties had left in their passing.