The rise and rise of the political New Year message - The Snow In The Summer or So-So

12 January 2019
Happy New Year - signed, A Politician

Metro_Land asked When exactly did PMs start doing these new year messages? Metro_Land doesn't remember Thatcher or Major ever inflicting them on the nation.

Well, the Margaret Thatcher Archive contains a message to her potential constituents in Dartford, for New Year 1950. But that's a bit parochial...

By tradition, the Conservative and Labour leaders (and we assume the Liberals, and the Communists, etc) would write a piece to their party members at the start of the year. Thatcher and Callaghan's messages for 1977 were exactly that: partisan, for supporters only. This continued for some years, and then something changed.

For new year 1986, Ronald Reagan had delivered an address on Russian television, and Mikhael Gorbachev had spoken on American telly. The new year message had moved from the partisan to the public sphere. Why weren't our leaders doing the same? Good PR at a quiet time of year.

Margaret Thatcher issued a public statement for new year 1987. It was a classic example of repurposing content - in message and strident tone, it was barely distinguishable from her party statement a year earlier. Neil Kinnock also put out a public new year's statement.

By new year 1988, these messages were expected and embargoed. By the start of 1990, the "new year's message" from politicians was an established tradition.

Another tradition was the Archbishop of Canterbury's message, shown on BBC1 at 12.05am on New Year's Day until new year 1998. Yep, straight out of Big Ben and into a prayer with the establishment. For 1999, it moved to 12.30am. 2000's prayers were live from the North Greenwich Marquee in the hour to midnight, and the ABoC's been a movable feast since.

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