A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ten years ago today

Tom Watson has asked where people were on 1 May 1997.

I was in Holborn & St Pancras, where I was full-time Organiser for the CLP, my salary funded by the RMT (back then it was affiliated to the Labour Party, controlled by rightwingers like Jimmy Knapp and Vernon Hince, and by size the most generous contributor to the Labour Party of any union).

I'd already dispatched my youngest and most energetic activists to Edmonton, the "marginal" Key Seat we were twinned with - where they had a fun day walking to a 14,000 majority.

That still left enough activists to run 14 committee rooms (a central one at our 8 Camden Road offices and 12 ward ones - with a 13th in Bloomsbury where 2 of the activists couldn't bear working together so had an HQ each for half the ward) - to have number takers all day at each of over 30 polling stations - and to run a full knocking-up operation.

If my memory is correct we had 21,000 Labour promises and a contact rate in excess of 60% in almost every polling district - again despite sending teams to Edmonton on a regular basis.

The day before I had augmented the pager I had been given by the CLP with a mobile phone rented for the day. It was the first time I had ever used one. "Don't tell the members" the CLP Secretary had said, "they'll think you are a New Labour yuppie if you have a mobile phone". Hampstead & Highgate CLP, who I shared an office with, had email - I didn't - but as far as I know other than the Organiser only the CLP Secretary and the IT Officer had email addresses. We were still in the age of faxed instructions from HQ and telephone ring rounds by teams of volunteers.

At 7am I opened up and laid out my HQ in an exact replica of the set-up I had seen whilst seconded to the Wirral South by-election, and then started to call my committee rooms to check they were up and running. A very sleepy voice answered in Bloomsbury:
"Why are you ringing me at 7am Luke?"
"It's polling day"
"I know, but the polls open at 8"
"No - 7"
"Oh no, I was still thinking it was the old polling hours from the 1970s"

the number taker just managed to get to the polling station before Frank Dobson MP, who lived in the ward - unless he is reading this he won't know how close he came to not seeing a red rosette that morning.

As the day wore on I was transported round the constituency from committee room to committee room in the back of an open top red Mercedes sports car.

Most of the committee rooms offered refreshments - Grafton Ward was the most extravagant with wine and smoked salmon on offer - they'd earned it as they had the highest promise and contact rate in the CLP.

I rang the Deputy Regional Director David Wilkinson as there was no opposition activity and offered to scale back my operation and send more bodies to Edmonton. He reassured me that the Tories were already scuttling off to Southgate and I might as well relax and enjoy the occasion.

8 Camden Road meanwhile was like the United Nations, as friends from across Europe turned up to get in on the anticipated victory, having heard we had a good party organised for election night. The Chair of the Norwegian Labour Youth presented me with a bouquet of red roses. The now PES General Secretary Philippe Cordery was sent out to knock-up tower blocks in St Pancras, and came back saying "this is like Mitterand winning in '81, I never expected to see this twice in my lifetime".

At the count (the then New Labour) Glenda Jackson looked nervous - she thought she was defending a marginal seat. She won by over 13,000. Frank won by nearly 19,000 and looked miffed that Glenda had done almost as well as him. Janet, Frank's wife, said to me "none of his other Agents ever got him a 19,000 majority" - high praise given that every one of them was by then at director level or above in the national party. I mumbled something about it being more to do with Blair than me.

Off to the Camden Palace to wild scenes as the big screen showed implausible gains in Hove and Hastings. People were laughing at the improbability of it, or crying with relief that we had finally got rid of the Tories. Frank disappeared, braced for the disappointment of Blair not appointing him to the Cabinet - not knowing he would become Secretary of State for Health later the next day.

Belatedly I clocked that the jubilant scenes at the Royal Festival Hall were of the victory party I had given away my staff ticket to - having said something profound about being "with my team" in Camden.

The next day - pure euphoria - swarming across Whitehall towards the Downing Street Gates as the Prime Minister - which seemed the most improbable label ever for a Labour politician to bear (surely Prime Ministers were Tory?) - boozy lunch with CLP activists babbling about the results - strangers on tube trains laughing as they read about Portillo in the Standard - buying all the papers as souvenirs - tidying up the flags and balloons at the Camden Palace - travelling down to Kent to see my family who had a big garden poster left in the lawn to remind their Tory neighbours who had won.

Things did get better. A lot better. We have been a good government that has delivered a good ten years. Blair lived up to and exceeded all the hopes I had for him as a Prime Minister. Let's make sure we get another ten years.


Blogger grimupnorth said...

Yes, it was great. That was then. This is now, Luke. About time you woke up and smelt the coffee, mate, After reading Brown's nauseating piece in today's Sun I feel rather ill.Correction. I feel like crying for all those thousands of councillors who will get dumped on Thursday thanks to New Labour's recent horrors.1997? Yes, ignorance was bliss.

12:47 pm, May 01, 2007

Anonymous Duncan said...

10 years ago... I stayed up all night watching the election coverage with some friends, somewhere in Leamington Spa (which was amongst the surprise Labour wins of the night). We were a merry room full of Labour supporters, and we got very silly and giddy, jubilantly watching the decapitation of Portillo and others...

At dawn, I grabbed a 'vote Labour' sign from somebody's front garden and charged up the Parade singing 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale' at the top of my voice (probably confirming the fears of some elegant early-morning bourgeois-types that the revolution had indeed begun). There were a few of us and we danced with some guys who were starting some roadworks (and were very happy too).

Back home, Tony Blair - on the news - said 'we were elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour' and a friend of mine said: 'let's hope that's the first broken promise!'
'It won't be,' I replied. After all, by that time I had met you (!!!) and several other of your Labour Student comrades, and realised that you actually meant it.

So scales have never dropped from eyes - I was delighted that morning because I'd tried as hard as anyone to kick out the Tories and we'd done it. I wouldn't have predicted Iraq, or absurd privatisation policies, but I wasn't expecting the New Jerusalem!

1:34 pm, May 01, 2007

Blogger Theo said...

I certainly remember you sending some troops up to Southgate at around 6, Luke!

A great day in Camden. I also recollect the veritable see of red poster in windows in places like Highgate and Primrose Hill.

4:07 pm, May 01, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank went to the RFH - I know cos i met him there.

4:35 pm, May 01, 2007

Blogger daggi said...

"they'll think you are a New Labour yuppie if you have a mobile phone"

Surely it's what you say that counts, not which piece of technology you use to say it? In any case, surely the CLP secretary was right? More smoked salmon and wine?

10:38 am, May 02, 2007


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