Hi there, a couple of weeks a go I wrote about the first election night I remember staying up for. 10 years ago was the first general election I voted in, and it saw a historic change in government for the first time in 18 years.
Since the 1992 election, the Conservatives went through a period where what can go wrong for them, would go wrong for them, starting with Black Wednesday, and continuing through the Back to Basics crisis. Labour had elected Scottish MP John Smith as its leader when Kinnock resigned, and spent this period quietly refashioning the party, installing a One Member One Vote mechanism to key conference votes. His leadership was more a steady as she goes kind of a leadership.
After Smiths death in May 1994, Tony Blair was elected as the new Labour leader. His reforms of party protocols were more dramatic & revolutionary. He campaigned for and won the dropping of Clause IV, and changed the name of the party from Labour to New Labour. His party also became more pro-business. It was against this background that on 17th March 1997, John Major announced that the General election would take place on May 1st.
To be honest I don’t really remember too much about the campaign itself, or much of polling day. I remember the Tories were pretty much doomed from the start, and that was before the election leaflets about Europe or the Neil Hamilton skirmish.
On the day itself, as I said I don’t really remember much. Scotland had lost 2-1 to Sweden in a World Cup qualifier the night before, so I was still digesting that. I went to vote at about 7:30 in the evening, got back and waited for the BBC results programme. I there was an Election Special of Have I Got News For You on that night, which strangely for an election night started before the polls closed (Satirical programmes like Have I Got News For You and Spitting Image used to start straight after the polls closed so that there is no undue influence over voters. This is also why exit polls are not announced until this time.).
I should confess at this point, I didn’t vote New Labour at this election, & I haven’t voted for them since. I felt that they were a bit too business friendly and were beginning to ignore the natural core Labour constituency. Instead I voted Lib Dem, mainly because they were honest about their tax plans.
So 9:55pm and the election results programmes start, within 5 minutes both the BBC & ITV election programmes were predicting a Blair landslide, a big landslide. The first couple of results kind of bore this out even thought they were safe Labour seats, the majorities increased substantially. Then New Labour started winning Conservative seats. Then the cabinet ministers started to fall (10 in all). From around midnight to about 3am, it was all a bit of a blur, and was very dramatic. I do remember the graphics that Jon Snow deployed, there was one which showed the conservative majorities as blocks, and they were being blitzed. Another graphic was one showing Conservative leaders and the respective landslide defeats that they suffered, this was shown by them having some sort of sand substance tipped on to them. At around 3:15am on the morning of the 2nd, New Labour won its 331st seat, confirming New Labour as the next government.
Time to go to bed, ah yes but I would have missed the Portillo moment. I think the most amazing thing about Portillo losing his seat is how dignified he was about losing, compared to say David Mellor who ranted and raved at James Goldsmith (the Referendum Party candidate).
It is amazing to think about how we enjoyed the ousting of a discredited and disliked administration, and of how much hope we all had for the future, even those of us who thought that we would have some more of the same. But you know what, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
See you next time.