In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Kevin Meagher was the campaign co-ordinator in Bolton South East
I have a very specific recollection of the morning after Labour’s 1997 election victory.
Back then, I was working as a hod-carrier for my dad during the day and studying for my Master’s at night. (Campaigning for Labour took up every other waking minute).
Like every other political anorak, I’d stayed up for Portillo – and long after.
But I had work the next day.
We arrived at the site and parked up. It was only 8am, but the sun was already beating down and the sky was clear blue. The road were were working on was a haze of fine dust with a gentle breeze blowing towards us.
We took the tools out of the car and set off towards our block.
Brian, a ground worker in his mid-50s, (whose misanthropy was already well-established), was walking towards us, chuntering away to himself.
“So what do you make of the election result then?” my dad asked him cheerily.
Brian screwed up his face and without pausing simply said: “They’re all the fucking same.”
They’re all the fucking same.
The point, I guess, is never to be carried away with the euphoria of the political moment.
To misquote WB Yeats: the best were full of passionate intensity while the worst lacked all conviction.
Yes, May 1st 1997 was a joyous and thrilling experience for Labour supporters. The end of an appalling 18-year losing streak. A moment laden with opportunity.
Millions, however, were not enthused.
After all, John Major still won more votes in 1992 than Tony Blair managed in 1997: 14,093,007 to 13,518,167.
As a psephological factoid, it should throw a pale of cold water over our selective memories. Yes, it was a tremendous, landmark victory, but turnout fell from 77.7 per cent in 1992 to 71.4 per cent in 1997.
In office, competence and moderation were Blair’s guiding principles. Britain is a small ‘c’ conservative country. He instinctively recognised that. He knew his mandate was for ‘Labour men and Tory measures.’ But the hope was that once your bona fides are established you can bend the consensus your way.
Like all governments, positive things were achieved and some opportunities were missed.
In 2001, turnout fell to just 59 per cent. By 2005, Tony Blair won 4.5 million fewer votes than Neil Kinnock managed in 1992.
This accounts for the ‘missing’ five million Labour voters that Ed Miliband used to talk about. They remain lost. Missing in Inaction, so to speak.
The challenge for Labour’s next leader is to find them and rebuild a similar consensus to the one Blair and Brown first managed to assemble in 1997.
Something tells me I should not hold my breath.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut