3. 30 am, 2nd May 1997. The result from Somerton and Frome, the constituency of my home village flashed across the bottom of the television screen – a Liberal Democrat gain. The Tories had been routed right across Britain, there were swathes of red and orange across the map, in Scotland and Wales there were no traces of blue.
Katharine leaned over the banisters of our huge Edwardian Rectory and called down the stairs, “do you intend staying up all night?”
“No”, I said, “I have seen enough”. I slept through to 7 am, deeply content.
“Things can only get better,” had been the campaign jingle of the victorious Labour Party. Those of us who had stood outside of polling stations in 1979 had waited eighteen years for this moment.
I was so delighted at the result that I was bought a video of election highlights as a stocking-filler the following Christmas. Time and again I played the moment when the journalist Martin Bell triumphed over Neil Hamilton and, best of all, the defeat of Michael Portillo by Stephen Twigg in Enfield Southgate.
Things didn’t get better though and things were never as they seemed. Neil Hamilton, whatever his failings, made for compulsive viewing and Michael Portillo became disturbingly radical. The party that hit the poor the hardest were not on the opposition benches, they were sitting on the Government side of the House.
Tax after tax slipped into the system, each indirect tax, each levy, hitting those on low incomes disproportionately to those who were much richer.
Education wasn’t reformed; it was turned into sets of statistics. Constant league tables that told nothing of how much teachers had achieved. The Health Service creaked along under the ever burgeoning weight of its own bureaucracy.
Perhaps if the new Government did no great good, it might have refrained from doing harm. Instead, British soldiers were sent off around the globe, the nadir being the troops trapped in the disastrous war in Iraq, a war begun without any idea of how it would end.
I think Tony Blair is a decent bloke, I think he worked hard to build on the foundations laid by John Major in Northern Ireland, I think he believed that he was sincere. It’s sad that the end of ten years things haven’t got better, my old Labour Dad would be the first to admit that his party haven’t served him well. The applause in the House of Commons seemed almost like the jollity with which one bids farewell to a dinner guest that one is pleased to see depart.