UNCUT: Election 1997: 20th anniversary: “Just let yourselves out quietly when you’re finished”, said Her Majesty’s High Commissioner to South Africa

01/05/2017, 06:48:48 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Stephen Hardwick had been a shadow cabinet adviser to John Prescott and moved to South Africa to work for the ANC shortly before the election

“Where were you for Portillo?” Drinking white wine and whooping with delirium at the UK High Commissioner’s residence in Bishopscourt, Cape Town, with half of Nelson Mandela’s ANC Cabinet, and my comrade-in-arms, Mike Elrick.

There are worse places to watch the BBC election night coverage than amid the great and the good of South Africa’s first democratic government and as a guest of the fabulous (and late) Maeve Fort – who knew how to throw a party.

But why there?

I’d been working as an adviser to the ANC Chief Whip, Max Sisulu, for a year by then, and Mike, who had been a press officer for John Smith, had joined me six months in. After four years as John Prescott’s speechwriter and policy adviser, I’d quit because I had wanted to ‘do something’ to support the new ANC government in South Africa.

As far as I was concerned, by mid-1996 Labour was nailed-on for a big win, and I felt that I’d done my bit. So while my contemporaries among the Shadow Cabinet advisers – the Milibands, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Pat McFadden and co – would be heading for government or Parliament, I was already there, working ultimately for Mandela.

So on election night, there was a huge projector screen and a BBC satellite feed set up in a grand and spacious dining hall. There was fizz, I recall, to get things started, and waiters circulated topping up bottomless glasses of chilled whites and fruity reds. There was also buffet and the most enormous wheel of cheddar.

It was the scale of the rout that was so shocking, and as seat after seat fell, we Brits kept looking at each other with growing disbelief and, in some cases, unalloyed joy.

Around 2am I called John Prescott to congratulate him. He was on his way from Hull to London and he told me that he’d been up to Sedgefield to see Tony Blair earlier that day and that he was going to be Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions. I’m still proud that I was among the first he told.

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UNCUT: Election 1997 20th anniversary: Euphoria for political anoraks, but many were indifferent

01/05/2017, 05:09:02 PM

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

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UNCUT: Election 1997 20th anniversary: Trundling across the Yorkshire Dales in “that old jalopy”

01/05/2017, 02:51:04 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Rob Marchant was the candidate in Skipton and Ripon.

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.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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UNCUT: Election 1997 20th anniversary: “North West Labour party, leaders of a new generation, can I help you?”

01/05/2017, 12:33:14 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Tristram Brown was a volunteer at the North West regional office.

You could touch the build up to polling day in 1997. Everywhere we went people wanted to talk about labour being in government. Flags, posters, banners everywhere. We were also supremely organised (but probably less so than my imperfect memory will allow me). We had an answer to every question we were going to be asked, we had a leaflet, a pledge card or a manifesto for everyone we met.

To this day, that election taught me that if you want to judge whether the party or our policies are popular you can see the ripples of support in the public. In order to penetrate the quiet reserve of public consciousness then there must be visible signs of it in the towns and villages of the country. There is no such thing as a silent revolution.

I spent the night working, collecting results as they came in and passing them on. There were parties everywhere, but the party staff and volunteers worked through the night, including in NW regional office pulling together results and passing intelligence on. This was before Wikipedia or the internet so it relied on networks of staff calling each other (mobile phones weren’t common then – pagers!). I was one of the first up the next morning opening the office and as an act of indulgence I remember answering the phones with “NW Labour Party, leaders of a new generation, can I help you?”

I went back into university the next week and my professor had filled in the paperwork for an extension on my deadlines on my behalf. Happy days.

Tris Brown was a volunteer in NW regional office between 1995-1997 

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UNCUT: Election 1997 20th anniversary: “Who the hell is Claire Curtis-Tansley?”

01/05/2017, 10:50:22 AM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Atul Hatwal was a press officer at Millbank HQ and gives a personal take on the day.

By May 1st, party HQ at Millbank tower was almost empty. Most staff had been shipped out to key seats to knock doors in the last week.

The press desk was silent. The morning dragged by with a couple of international press  queries on timings but other than that I wiled away the time looking out of the window at the glorious blue sky and ringing people I knew in committee rooms in various key seats, bothering them for updates on whether the vote was coming out.

This wasn’t official business mind, just curiosity and something to do.

These were the days when pagers were modern and the internet was still called the information super-highway. The equivalent of Twitter was sitting, staring at Lotus notes (that’s what we had rather than Outlook) on a desktop screen, waiting for an e-mail to appear.

I was rostered to work the morning through to late afternoon; then some time-off before coming in for the evening shift at eight, on duty for results and at the party through to the morning.

The time-off wasn’t really time-off though – all staff working these sorts of shifts were expected to spend their downtime knocking up in a key seat.

Earlier in the week the whole key seat operation had been refocused with canvassers moved out to an entirely new list of seats with much higher Tory majorities.

At the time the decision was announced I had committed a minor heresy.

I asked one of the key seats team why we were shifting at such a late stage? What did we hope to achieve with 4 days of canvassing in seats that hadn’t been touched in years.

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UNCUT: The cult of Ed Balls tells you everything you need to know about the hole that Labour moderates are in

29/04/2017, 09:45:09 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Nothing is more revealing of the emotional and political lacuna at the heart of the non-Corbyn Labour party than the veneration of Ed Balls.

It’s not just Ed Balls day. On its own that’s transitory Twitter fluff. More problematic is the way he’s viewed by so many moderates as this huge Labour presence. A lost sage, sprinkled with sparkly Strictly stardust.

His interventions are treated by MPs, former advisers, journalists and swathes of the Labour Twitterati as if he some extraordinary combination of Attlee and the Fonz. You can almost hear the giggling in the tweets gushing over him.

Labour’s problems with Jeremy Corbyn are well documented but less aired is the dire state of the alternative. In Michael Dugher’s valedictory interview with the New Statesman, explaining his reasons for standing down as an MP he said it was, “no good moderates blaming Corbyn. Labour members were lured to Corbyn out of desperation. What we offered didn’t inspire, it wasn’t radical, it was more of the same.”

Dugher is right and his long-time friend, Ed Balls, is a case study why moderates failed.

Balls was a very good economic adviser to Gordon Brown, an average performer in parliament on a good day (sometimes, as with his response to the Autumn Statement in 2014, he was atrocious), patchy on broadcast and an absolutely dreadful political strategist.

When he became shadow chancellor in early 2011, he set a benchmark for success as getting ahead of the Tories on the economy. Labour went into the 2015 election almost twenty points behind. That’s his responsibility.

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UNCUT: The Tory taste of death

28/04/2017, 02:20:10 PM

by Jonathan Todd

We’re having so many elections that Lynton Crosby is usurping Kylie Minogue as our most ubiquitous Antipodean. Painting campaigns in primary colours of risk and security, Better the Devil You Know is his favourite Kylie track.

So starkly are risk and security contrasted that it rapidly descends to Eddie Izzard’s cake or death sketch. This time the “security cake” is made of Brexit, Ed Miliband’s energy price cap, and Philip Hammond’s dearth of fiscal plans. If your pallet is trapped in May 2015, this cake will taste of what we were told was deathly risk. Then security supposedly meant EU membership, opposition to the energy price cap, and George Osborne’s austerity justifying fiscal plans.

Crosby now sells a confused security composed of what he recently told us was risk. Unknowable risks at that. We are not being asked to vote for Brexit but for whatever Theresa May, after a highly complex negotiation with the EU and its member states, decides Brexit means. As fiscal prudence has been redefined as whatever Hammond deems it.

Blank cheque Brexit, aligned with carte blanche fiscal policy, is no security at all. Making this understood is now the task of Labour PPCs.

Robert Harris, writing not long before the election was called in the New Statesman, “can’t quite understand how the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party can sit there day after day, month after month, year after year, knowing that they’re simply heading towards a kind of mincing machine at the next election.”

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INSIDE: Danczuk NEC hearing delayed yet again

26/04/2017, 10:17:30 PM

Today was meant to be the day that the NEC finally decided on whether Simon Danczuk would be allowed back into the party and to stand as an official Labour candidate in the looming election.

It’s been over a year since he was suspended and this decision has been a long time coming.

As arranged, Simon Danczuk made his way to the meeting in good time and was waiting outside the room, ready to hear his fate.

And then he was told.

Despite the huge, unexplained delay in scheduling this hearing, the NEC wasn’t quite ready. More time was needed to review the paperwork. Really.

Monday is the new decision day. The saga continues. Readers will draw their own conclusions on the efficiency and effectiveness of the party’s internal processes.

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INSIDE: Danczuk to learn his fate today

26/04/2017, 07:28:55 AM

Simon Danczuk is set to appear before a star chamber of the National Executive Committee this morning to learn whether he will be readmitted to the party and allowed to stand as the official Labour candidate for his Rochdale seat.

Suspended from the party since December 2015 following newspaper allegations about his private life, Danczuk had previously earned widespread praise for his tenacity in exposing his predecessor, Sir Cyril Smith, as a sexual predator.

His disciplinary case is now a microcosm of a bigger debate within the party.

As Atul noted the other day, it boils down to whether Labour’s priority at this election is maximising the number of Labour MPs returned, or positioning for post-election control of the party.

If the former, the NEC has to allow Danczuk to stand.

Despite his ubiquity in the tabloid media, he remains popular among his constituents and is a solid and determined campaigner.

In 2015, he increased his majority from 889 in 2010 to 12,442.

The Rochdale seat is mercurial for Labour. Having oscillated between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in recent elections, Danczuk remains Labour’s best chance of holding it.

If, however, the party leadership is more concerned with the composition of the post-election parliamentary party- and the potential of getting a bloc of left-wingers who will nominate a left-wing successor to Corbyn – then removing a vocal critic of the leadership like Danczuk may be the over-riding consideration.

Is Labour a serious political party focused on winning an election, or a fan club? The treatment meted out to Simon Danczuk will tell us.

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UNCUT: Starmer is right: Only Labour can stop a blank cheque Brexit

25/04/2017, 11:14:50 PM

by David Ward

At times it felt like we’d completely bypassed the election and gone straight into the leadership contest. Jenny Chapman introduced Keir Starmer as “clear, articulate, and strong” and one of the “bravest, most sincere, people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with”.

Yet with the inescapable reality of the stopped clock on the adjacent wall telling the right time twice a day, Starmer had to bring us back into the present and tell us what Labour’s policy on Brexit would be.

For an election speech there was quite a bit of policy in there. Guarantee the rights of EU nationals, an end to free movement, a laser focus on jobs and the economy in negotiations. Although it isn’t clear how Labour would “retain the benefits” of the single market and customs union.

But the specifics were less important than the narrative. If this election is about who runs Brexit, Starmer’s message is voting labour is the only way to keep May honest.

This is surely right. Because there are reasons to be concerned about giving the PM such a free hand regardless of whether you supported Leave or Remain.

A huge majority for May simply allows her free rein to strike almost any agreement, impervious to criticism.

For example many leavers, including Labour voters, were motivated by concerns about immigration last summer. Yet already Theresa May has suggested free movement could continue after Britain leaves the EU.

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