Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Election 1997 20th anniversary: some thoughts

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the Labour landslide. I blogged this little piece for Labour Uncut on what it was like.

The day was sunny, and my little Triumph Herald – referred to somewhat unkindly by my Tory opponent, David Curry, as “that old jalopy” – trundled its way across the Yorkshire Dales, blaring out D-Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better” from a speaker strapped across its roof for the day by my friend Richard’s dad.

The campaign strategy in Skipton and Ripon, the Tory heartland constituency where I went to school, had been simple. Make any kind of noise at all to show them you’re alive, and people would come out for you who didn’t usually even realise there was a Labour candidate standing. Good people came out to help us. People who simply saw Labour as a force for good and would come out and leaflet with us in Ingleton, Settle or Skipton in the rain.

That sunny day, though, there was change in the air. Indeed, you felt that by merely repeating “Britain Deserves Better”, the campaign slogan, endlessly through the PA system, you were somehow personally willing the end of 18 years of Tory government, something that had become almost impossible to conceive.

The Tories had not only messed up the economy through its antics in the ERM, the forerunner to the Euro; they had given us the Poll Tax which taxed you regressively for having the temerity to vote; and the hated Section 28, which essentially institutionalised the idea that gay people were bad.

They had it coming. But the only reason for their longevity then, as now, had been the fundamental uselessness of Labour as an opposition over a long period. We needed only to get our act together, and they crumbled.

That evening, after three solid weeks of morning-till-night campaigning, I remember collapsing into an armchair, thinking that the exit polls were really looking pretty good. There was no Portillo moment for me: I woke up the next morning to attend my own count around lunchtime, the fact of not winning myself massively outweighed by the shining, stunning achievement of the first Labour government of my voting life.

We never going to win, of course, although 12,171 good-hearted Labour supporters helped us make a good dent. We didn’t care. Labour was in and, as Wordsworth wrote of the French Revolution, bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

This was a very gentle, English kind of revolution, though. And for a brief moment a nation, which had spent a great deal of its recent past gazing nostalgically at its own navel, had become a little more tolerant, open and kind.


This piece first published at Labour Uncut

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