Tribune leader, 30 October 1992

It now seems that last weekend’s head­lines suggesting that John Major would call a general election if he lost next Wednesday’s Commons vote on the Maas­tricht Bill were the result of a misunder­standing.
We were assured this week that he had not intended to give the impression to “senior officials” travelling with him on his trip to Egypt that defeat would mean going to the country for the second time in a year.
What he (and they) meant to convey, ex­plained the self-same “senior officials” unashamedly, was simply that a defeat on Maastricht would be terribly serious. Mr Major would rather go for an election than give up the Tory leadership to some anti-Maastricht figure. An early election was not on the cards, they told journal­ists.
Nevertheless, the frisson of excitement that all those headlines sent down spines throughout Britain was significant. There is undoubtedly a growing feeling in the country that Mr Major and his govern­ment have run out of steam and that a general election should take place sooner rather than later.
It is easy to see why. In the past six months, Mr Major and his team have shown themselves to be incompetent al­most beyond belief. Instead of the recov­ery we were promised, Britain has suf­fered ever-deepening recession. Redun­dancies were making news even before the shocking announcement that 30,000 jobs would go in the pits.
Instead of a strong currency in the ex­change rate mechanism and zero infla­tion, Mr Major has presided over with­drawal of sterling from the ERM and a 20 per   cent   devaluation   which   will   in­evitably cause import prices to rocket.
The government’s economic strategy is in tatters and Mr Major is giving the im­pression of having no idea of what to do next, apart from pinching a few ideas from Labour’s economic policy. Tory backbenchers are in open revolt over Eu­rope. Public confidence in the govern­ment has collapsed.
In the circumstances, Labour should have no hesitation in going all out to force the government into an early election.
Voting against the government next Wednesday, on a Maastricht paving mo­tion or an adjournment debate, makes perfect sense. There is a real but slim chance that, with the Tories in disarray, defeat for the government could panic Mr Major to gamble on going to the polls.
At the same time, however, it is crucial both that Labour recognises that its ef­forts might not have the effect that it wants and that the party does nothing that compromises its integrity as a pro-European party.
No one should be too down-hearted if the attempt to bring the government down does not come off this time  – and the message that Labour sees Europe as the key to its alternative economic policy must be heard loud and clear above the hubbub of parliamentary manoeuvring.
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