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1992: John Major climbs onto his soapbox
British Prime Minister John Major has mounted his soapbox to urge voters in Cheltenham to elect John Taylor as the first black Conservative MP.

Standing in the centre of the spa town, he declared his backing for the barrister turned Tory candidate who is standing in the general election in just 10 days time.

Three new opinion polls put Labour ahead of the Tories. One, for Channel Four, indicates they are virtually neck-and-neck, with a miniscule 0.2 difference between the Conservatives on 39.8 and Labour on 39.6, with the Liberal Democrats on 17.2.

It seems Mr Major may have resorted to his old-fashioned soapbox and loudspeaker in a desperate attempt to inject some enthusiasm into an otherwise lack-lustre campaign.

Tested by Special Branch

In Luton on Saturday, (28 March) the prime minister was jostled by a hostile crowd as a planned walkabout turned into a slanging match with left-wing activists.

He was making slow progress through a pedestrianised shopping street, when he managed to find a soapbox and rise above the crowds.

Under fire from a barrage of hecklers with loudspeakers he picked up a megaphone and said: "You see the face of hatred here.

"No mob ever taking to the streets is going to stop us coming out and talking to the ordinary decent people of this country. This is mob rule in the street, just like it was in 1979."

He struggled to the end of the street and after a last defiant round of handshaking was driven away.

Today in Cheltenham he revealed that the soapbox would be his new campaign weapon.

Mr Major said: "People say that you cannot do it these days. It is fashionable to say, for security and other reasons, that you cannot get up on a soapbox. I think you have to and I am going to do it."

The soapbox was not actually a soapbox at all, but a Central Office document box, 4ft, by 3ft by 1.5ft.

It was apparently tested by someone from Special Branch to ensure it would not collapse when the prime minister stepped up on to it.

At a Labour news conference, Labour's chairman Jack Cunningham was asked when Neil Kinnock would be getting up onto his soapbox.

Mr Cunningham said: "We have graduated from soapbox politics."

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John Major on soapbox with Norma in crowd beside him
John Major reveals the soapbox as his new campaign weapon

In Context
Contrary to all expectations, the Conservatives did win the 1992 election.

The Tories ended up with 43% of the vote, Labour 37%, which was almost the exact opposite of what most polling organisations had predicted throughout the campaign.

Many viewed the victory as a personal triumph for John Major and his soapbox-style of campaigning.

The Times said: "He led from the front, albeit in a characteristically diffident way, and his success in denying Labour power in the teeth of the longest recession since the war will go down as one of the great political escape stories."

However, it was not all good news for the Tories. Some very senior figures in the party lost their seats, including chairman Chris Patten who lost Bath to the Liberal Democrats.

The election marked the end for Neil Kinnock's leadership. He announced he was stepping down and was subsequently replaced by John Smith.

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