In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Lucy Ashton is the daughter of Joe Ashton, MP for Bassetlaw 1968-2001 and a political journalist.
While the Millbank machine was thundering through key seats in 1997, it was business as usual in Bassetlaw, my father’s constituency in North Nottinghamshire.
My dad had been the Labour MP for 29 years and had lived through the toughest times ever to face both the party and the country, including the devastating Miners’ Strike. He had won successful elections through the bleakest of periods so the media monitoring, battle bus and key message cards somewhat passed us by as we did business as usual.
My dad was a big supporter of Blair and a fan of Alistair Campbell (mainly through their shared love of football) but he knew his constituency better than anyone. Geographically, it’s huge and diverse so he would spend his days hammering posters into farmers’ fields, then door knocking with a loud speaker on disadvantaged council estates. The London Labour party with its Britpop celebrity endorsements seemed a world away.
One of the main towns in Bassetlaw is Worksop which was lucky enough to have a wonderful old building called the Labour Party Headquarters, ideally positioned opposite a pub. It was a great curiously shaped building, full of character and heritage and was used for everything from storing leaflets to holding important ballot meetings.
My dad was in his 60s and I remember him lying down on a 1960s-style orange and brown settee to have a nap mid-afternoon.
But this time my dad knew that finally, he could celebrate a Labour landslide, so while Blair was in his private plane, we were preparing for a street party.
We used chairs to unofficially close the little back street where the HQ building was, effectively shutting off access to the pub but given the landlord was a long-standing party supporter no one seemed to mind.
I wore a bright red polo shirt – nothing fancy to celebrate such a historic occasion – and spent the whole night playing games with the little kids, drinking and laughing.
I remember dancing to ‘Come On Eileen’ with my mum and a group of the Labour party woman, hugging and stamping our feet. This was our time after years of fighting. I still think of that moment when I hear the song.
While Millbank had create a new era of campaigning which would change the way every election was fought in future, in Bassetlaw it felt like we had returned to the days of Coronation Street in the 1960s, of Harold Wilson, of simple booze-ups and happy times.