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A Glossary of Terms - The Absence of War Close

George Nichols | Jan. 27, 2015


Glossary of Terms


The Agency

Labour struggled to find an advertisement agency that would professionally represent them in the 1980's. This was because many agencies thought their own company's future business hopes would be pinned on Labour winning the next general election. There was also a rumour that any agency that worked for the Labour Party would risk losing its contracts in the private sector, due to the private sector’s affiliation with the Conservatives and the free market economy. The BMP (Boase, Massimi, Pollit) advertising agency were ideal candidates for Labour due to their previous work with the TUC (Trade Unions Congress with whom Labour were affiliated) and had handled the ‘Save the GLC’ campaign (Greater London Council). Chris Powell, Managing Director of the company, who had been advising Labour on communications since 1971, supported the idea but other board members opposed him. In the end, Labour set up ‘The Agency’ chaired by Powell, with many BMP staff. They even borrowed office space from them. Not formally recognising the BMP as the official agency of the party allowed Labour greater liaison with their advertising and allowed them to bring in people from other backgrounds to the almost ‘in house’ company they had created. The approach taken by The Agency was largely inspired by Reagan’s volunteer system in the 1984 presidential elections. The Agency was largely made up of volunteers.

The Cabinet

The primary decision making body of the U.K. comprised of the Prime Minister and his 22 most senior ministers. The Cabinet is made up of representatives of each key area of society such as health, education and finance.

Calling an Election Early

The Prime Minister has the constitutional power to call a General Election early. This happens for a number of reasons, such as a minority government wishing to secure a majority when their opinion ratings are strong (snap election) or if a party undergoes a change of leadership and wishes to give the Prime Minister more legitimacy with the electorate. An election can also be postponed to beyond the five year period. This has happened during war time and would have happened were the Scottish referendum successful.

The Cenotaph

War memorial in Whitehall, London, erected for a peace parade following The First World War. In the annual ceremony, the leaders of the three main political parties lay wreaths at the bottom of the statue.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the minister in charge of economic and financial matters. It is one of the most powerful positions in government and is seen as second only to the Prime Minister. The relationships between Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have often been strained, notable examples include Major and Lamont, and Blair and Brown respectively. Norman Lamont was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer after Major left the post to become Prime Minister. Much of his time in this position was defined by the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). He was eventually sacked after his relationship with Major had become increasingly sour - although he officially resigned after refusing a demotion from his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He famously threw Major’s last letter to him straight in the bin without reading it.


When a candidate accepts publicly that they are defeated in an election. There can be a refusal to concede if a politician suspects electoral fraud or a miscount. George Jones concedes at the end of the play.

The Constitution

The British Constitution consists of all the laws and practices that govern the U.K.. It details the relationship between the individual and the state as well as the relationship of the three powers: the Judicial (courts), Legislative (The Commons/ Lords) and Executive (Symbolically the Queen although her powers are now exercised predominantly by the Prime Minister). The British Constitution is not formed of one document as many other constitutions are - US, France etc. - but is made up of a variety of sources. This is called an uncodified constitution.

Defence Secretary

The Defence secretary is in charge of the Ministry of Defence. Tom King was brought into the Cabinet by Thatcher in 1983 and he did many roles in quick succession, but this was because of his ability to ‘master his brief’ quickly and deal with successive crises. He had a very small media presence. In the Major government he was appointed as Defence Secretary during the Gulf War.

Education Secretary

The Education Secretary is responsible for over seeing ‘early years, adoption and child protection, teachers’ pay, the school curriculum and school improvement’. Kenneth Clarke is one of the most recognisable figures from Major’s cabinet as he became the fifth longest serving Cabinet Minister and was (and still is) a very active and outspoken person. He was the first Minister to advise Margaret Thatcher to resign and he made significant educational reforms as part of Major’s cabinet. He worked very well and closely with Major. Clarke has only just stepped down from the Cabinet in 2014 and is now a backbencher.

Exit Poll

A poll taken following voting in a General Election, traditionally considered to be an accurate prediction of how the nation will vote. In the 1992 General Election the polls incorrectly suggested a hung parliament when actually John Major had won. One of the reasons for this is suspected to be ‘Shy Tories’ who are unwilling to disclose that they have voted Conservative.

Foreign Secretary

The Foreign secretary's responsibilities include all things relating to foreign countries and the commonwealth/overseas British territories - e.g The Falklands. Douglas Hurd became the Foreign Secretary in the last few months of Thatcher’s turbulent last year in office. Buoyed by a successful performance in the Home Office before this, Hurd ran in the leadership election following Thatcher’s resignation. He shared the centre right with John Major but lost out graciously. It was Hurd’s grace in defeat that saw him reinstated at the Foreign Office following Major’s election.

General Elections

General elections must take place every five years and each constituency of the U.K. decides who will represent them as an MP in Westminster. The Party who secures the majority of seats then becomes the governing party. If no party secures a majority then the party that secured the most seats may govern or a number of parties may join together to form a coalition (as with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in 2010). All of the votes happen on the same day and close by 10pm. The results are declared one by one and usually by the morning the winning party is declared.

Roy Hattersley 

Roy Hattersley came second in the 1983 leadership election despite having the majority of the cabinet behind him, as the PLP and unions favoured Kinnock. Many saw the partnership of Kinnock and Hattersley as a dream pairing due to their aptitude as politicians and because Kinnock leaned left while Hattersley leaned right. He is in many ways as responsible as Kinnock for the modernization of the party and dragging Labour out of the mining strikes and into a more positive future.

Patricia Hewitt

Patricia Hewitt was Kinnock’s press advisor. Hewitt understood that politics had become televised and politicians would therefore need to be able to give immediate answers to questions raised in the House of Commons and elsewhere. Patricia Hewitt said "People, bright, attractive people presenting an image of the broader base Labour has to capture, not people who present an image of old fashioned Labour die-hards". This is largely indicative of Labour's change of tact in the eighties, moving the party away from its membership and toward the electorate.

Home Secretary

The Home secretary is responsible for the internal affairs of England and Wales as well as immigration and citizenship across the U.K.. Kenneth Baker’s time as Home Secretary will be most remembered for him being the first serving minister to be in contempt of court - ‘the offence of being disobedient or disrespectful towards a court of law’ - because of his deportation of a man back to Zaire whilst he was still under court process. This did not lead to him losing his position before the 1992 General Election but he did resign after the election after refusing to be demoted to Welsh Secretary.

The House of Commons

The elected ‘lower house’ of parliament consists of 650 members of parliament (MPs) who each represent a constituency (area) of the United Kingdom. Here legislation is discussed and passed, this is also where PMQs is held.


The House of Lords

The unelected ‘upper house’, membership is inherited or appointed and it currently contains figures such as Lord Alan Sugar. It has the power to veto decisions made by the House of Commons.

Neil Kinnock

Neil Kinnock became the leader of the Labour Party and thus the opposition in 1983 and remained its leader until his second unsuccessful election campaign in 1992 giving him the unenviable title of the longest ever leader of the party of opposition. Kinnock saw off a leadership challenge from Tony Benn in 1988 and made significant progress in modernizing the party during his time as leader. Kinnock is seen by many to have led the way for the modernization of Labour’s marketing and media strategies. He also changed the party to focus less on its membership and more on the electorate, moving Labour’s policy away from introspective socialism and towards policies for the electorate and on a larger scale Europe.

Leader of the Opposition 

The leader of the Opposition is the leader of the party that won the second largest amount of seats. It has been either the Labour Party or the Conservative party since The First World War. It is the Leader of the Opposition’s job to question the government. 

Leadership Election

Leadership elections occur when the current leader of a party resigns, or is voted out by his/her party. Both the Conservatives and Labour have different processes for this. Labour Candidates must seek 12.5% support of Labour MPs who sit in the house of Commons. There are 3 groups of people who get to vote in this election: Labour MPs or MEPs, Labour Party members, and people in affiliated organisations such as unions. The Alternative Vote System is used to decide the winner in which the second choices of voters are taken into account until one candidate has a majority. The main thing to understand about this process is that it means that an MP may become party leader without the winning the popular vote of MPs or party membership. Ed Milliband won the 2010 leadership election because trade unions favoured him, meaning that despite David Milliband’s popularity within the party Ed Milliband won. A similar thing happened in Neil Kinnock’s election. Labour’s inclusion of unions in the process traditionally contributes to their status as a grass roots party that relies on a ‘bottom up’ system. The Conservative Party follows a similar system in terms of the use of the Alternative Vote system . However the list of candidates is reduced to two by MPs, and then the leader is voted for by all paying members. However, there is no input from affiliated societies or unions.

The Leader’s Office

An office of unelected officials who advise and help the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition respectively. This office can consist of anyone from spin-doctors to policy advisors and can often cause friction with elected MPs, as was the case for Neil Kinnock.

Lord Chancellor

Before 2005 the Lord Chancellor was the presiding officer of the House of Lords and the head of the judiciary in England and Wales. Following the 2005 act these roles transferred to other members of government. The current definition of the role would be that the Lord Chancellor is ‘responsible for the efficient functioning and independence of the courts’. Lord Mackay was appointed as Lord Chancellor during Thatcher’s administration and read the cabinet’s tribute for her. He was reappointed by John Major.

John Major

Major was Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher’s administration but became Prime Minister on 28th November 1990 following her forced resignation. Despite calls from Labour leader Neil Kinnock for an immediate general election one wasn't scheduled until April 1992. When John Major became Prime Minister he had the best approval ratings of anyone since Harold Macmillan following the Gulf War.

Peter Mandleson

In 1985 Neil Kinnock brought in Peter Mandelson as Director of Campaigns and Communications. He was the first person employed in this position to have had a career in television. He was current affairs producer for London Weekend Television. It was his appointment that paved the way for the campaign in the 1992 General Election. Although Mandelson was not in this position by 1992 - he was seeking election as an MP instead - Kinnock’s desire to bring him into the party had implications for the general election of 1992 because Kinnock’s appointment of Mandelson showed Labour’s willingness to adapt to the televisual age of politics. This period also saw Labour reassess its priorities and decide that its appeal to the electorate would be ultimately more important than its appeal to the declining party membership. Mandelson felt that his impact had actually been limited. He wanted to see it go further. Mandelson said, "There was a deprofessionalisation, that’s the only word I can think of, in the party organisation. Professional communications encountered a series of political, organisational and managerial instructions in headquarters... you had to bring in outsiders to help sort it out".


Mortgage Tax Relief

This limits the amount of tax on the interest of a mortgage a homeowner has to pay. Malcolm Pryce is keen to see this scrapped but it does not make the party manifesto due to worries that it will make the party unelectable with home owners for whom the relief is most helpful. Ultimately scrapping it would mean a raise in taxes. Labour needs to do this to generate income in order to fund other expensive policies.


Opinion Poll

A poll that asks focus groups questions on a variety of policies. They can also be used to currently predict which way the country will vote. When Labour began to reevaluate its tactics under Neil Kinnock it realized that the Conservatives were sourcing and analyzing a large range of demographic specific polls, allowing them to legislate for the electorate rather than the party membership. This led Labour to give much more attention to focus groups both in regards to policy and the party’s appearance.


The Opposition

For every minister - elected MP who oversees a department e.g Home Office or Foreign Office - in power there is a shadow minister of the opposing party. In the play George Jones is the Leader of the Opposition (his modern equivalent is Ed Milliband) and Malcolm Pryce is the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (his modern equivalent is Ed Balls). They are also elected MPs but not from the party that won the previous general election. They form a shadow cabinet. It is the opposition's duty to call to account the party of power. This is one of the many ‘checks and balances’ in the British political system. They do not have access to state funded resources in the same way that the party of power do. Below is a list of some of the most important shadow cabinet ministers in 1992.


Party Conferences

Party conferences are general meetings of party members that take place once a year and decide much of the upcoming policy of a political party. Every party has their conference at some point over the three weeks of parliamentary recess at the end of September/beginning of October. Traditionally conferences have taken place in sea side resorts such as Blackpool due to cheap accommodation, but this has changed in recent years.

PLP or Parliamentary Labour Party

This refers to the faction of the Labour Party that is actually in parliament, which is different from the Labour Party as a whole. The PLP therefore consists of all elected Labour MPs.



The main aims of a party are laid out in a manifesto. The manifesto is a list of all the policies a government will aim to implement if they gain power. These are traditionally decided on at a party conferences. All manifestos are easily available online


Prime Minister’s Questions (often abbreviated to PMQs)

A long standing constitutional convention or tradition in which the Prime Minister answers questions from the House of Commons. PMQs takes place every Wednesday and, in terms of political debate within the House of Commons, it is the most widely watched event. Often, a Prime Minister’s own party will ask questions that support the government, or praise an element of his policy while the opposition will be hypercritical and hope to draw the PM into making a blunder. It is the Speaker’s job to keep order but he often gets caught in the fray too. 


Sandinistas (Sandinista National Liberation Front)

In terms of the play this refers to the democratic socialist party of Nicaragua. The lost election discussed in the play probably refers to the 1990 defeat of the SNLF by the US supported Violeta Chamorro.


Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer

The role of Shadow Chancellor is tricky to define. They shadow the Chancellor of the Exchequer but as there are no constitutional stipulations regarding this role. It is a position which is given by the discretion of the party leader. Some oppositions (such as Thatcher’s before her election) have opted not to have a Shadow Chancellor. Kinnock appointed John Smith as Shadow Chancellor in 1987. Smith was noted as a very apt and witty speaker who, despite his quiet manner, had the ability to be scathing. He was named 'Parliamentarian of the Year' on two occasions whilst in opposition, for his performances against Leon Brittan and Nigel Lawson respectively. Traditionally the relationships between party leaders and their chancellors have been interesting. Take Blair and Brown, as a more recent example of this. Often the Shadow Chancellor is the number two and next in line to be party leader. They often try to distance themselves from leaders’ decisions that could be detrimental to their own campaigns. In the build up to the 1992 election, Smith had a plan to scrap Tory plans for a 1p reduction in income tax and replace it with a 1p cut in national insurance rates instead. Smith didn’t tell Kinnock this, fearing he would release it in the Shadow Budget when it was meant to be a surprise. These tensions culminated in an arranged press dinner at Luigi’s Restaurant in the West End when Kinnock showed his hand. The party had previously dropped the idea of phasing in higher national income contributions over the lifetime of parliament but Kinnock drew the press’s attention to an early policy document, which said Labour retained the option of phasing in the contributions,  contrary to what Smith had said. The press jumped on this and reported on the rift between Kinnock and Smith. John Smith became the Leader of the Opposition following Kinnock’s resignation after the 1992 election defeat. He died of a heart attack in 1994.

The Sheffield Rally 

The rally of 1992 held in Sheffield has come under criticism as one of the reasons for Kinnock’s defeat by the Tories. It seemed more like a presidential rally with rock and classical music, meant to reflect the Labour Party's appeal to a changing electorate. Many people have highlighted the party's over-confidence as being a contributory factor to the party’s failure to win a majority in the 1992 election. For example, they used the term ‘the cabinet of tomorrow’ to describe the shadow cabinet as they came on to stage. Despite blame for their defeat being pinned to the rally, the economy was the most significant issue, behind Labour’s inability to defeat the Tories.


The Six/Nine

Abbreviation that refers to the BBC six o’clock or nine o’clock news.


The Speaker

The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons. The Spekaer must remain politically impartial at all times. The Speaker keeps order during debates and calls MPs to speak. The Speaker also represents the Commons to the Monarch, the Lords and other authorities and chairs the House of Commons' Commission. The current Speaker is Rt Hon John Bercow, MP for Buckingham. The Speaker of the house leading up to 1992 was Bernard Weatherill. After the 1992 election, Betty Boothroyd became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.