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.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!

The title comes from Wordsworth's "French Revolution" but I've used it to sum up how I felt and how I asumed every Labour activist and voter felt on the May morning in 1997 when Tony Blair entered 10 Downing Street as Labour PM after a landslide victory.

I feel sorry for the younger generation of activists (gosh, never thought I'd write that!) who didn't get to experience that moment. Obviously older comrades had a similar experience in 1945 or 1964.

For me it was the culmination of 9 years hard slog as a Labour activist and by the end local organiser, and the symbolic ending of 18 years of torment from the Tories. It was particularly sweet because the defeat in 1992 had been so particularly bitter and for ordinary footsoldiers like me, so unexpected.

Unlike some, I was never disappointed by our beautiful Labour government or the 13 subsequent years it spent turning round the damage of Thatcherism and making Britain a better place to live in. The worst day and the worst decisions of the Blair and Brown years would be better to live through again than the best day of the mob running Britain now. I feel nothing but pride to have had the privilege to be a Labour Party member during the 1997-2010 period. Nothing but pride.

Every time I walk through the ward where I am a councillor, one of the most deprived wards in England, I see what Labour did for the poorest people in society: refurbished social housing, a brand new city academy where a failing school stood, a primary school rebuilt with BSF money, another new secondary school being built under a contract Ed Balls signed off, safer neighbourhood coppers and PCSOs put there by Ken Livingstone. Lives of my constituents which are still tough and sometimes desperate but lived a little safer, a little warmer, a little more prosperous and a little more full of hope and opportunity because of Labour.

But why am I feeling inspired to waffle on nostalgically about 1997 today?

Because of something I read today that made me realise that on that day in 1997 when my heart was bursting with the joy that we finally had a Labour Government there were people pretending to be part of our movement who did not share that joy. Neal Lawson of Compass has a piece on Comment is Free today where he whinges on about the betrayals of both Blair and Brown: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/10/tony-blair-brownites-blairites

It's worth reading all the comments because my good comrade Hopi Sen is on magnificent form dissecting Neal's position. But the one that inspired me to write this evening is the one by an anonymous commenter that quotes Neal's previous statement:

"I was a Blairite. Back in 1994, I believed he was serious about new politics, communities and Europe. More fool me. My first doubts crept in as early as election day in May 1997. I was crunching up long gravel drives in Enfield Southgate, where rumours abounded that no-hoper Stephen Twigg might oust Michael Portillo. After passing BMWs and Mercs I was met by enthusiastic upper-middle-class families who were "all for Tony Blair here". We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

And correctly responds:

"The truth is you don't want a Labour Government. Not only are you saved from having to coax "these people" (i.e. perfectly ordinary middle class people) into the tent, it's just so much easier to snipe and whine from the sidelines. In fact you're so much happier being in opposition, you just couldn't stop. Even when Labour were in government."

Here I am raging against the dying of the light, and even at its most blinding, you could not see it. You could not see it and you did not believe in and support and strive to protect the best, most noble government this country has had in half a century. We were keeping the faith and trying to change our country and the world, and you were already hating it before the last Labour vote had even been counted. We saw Stephen Twigg beating Portillo and wanted to sing ourselves hoarse, you wanted to cry betrayal. Shame on you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"passing BMWs and Mercs I was met by enthusiastic upper-middle-class families who were "all for Tony Blair here". We were going to win, but what did we have to sacrifice to have these people in our tent?"

That's a fair point though, isn't it?

Blair and Brown changed Labour's policies to attract people like that rather than engaging with them and trying to win them over to alternative ideas.

The recent BBC Parliament channel broadcast of the 2001 election results programme was dominated by discussion about low turnout especially in safe Labour seats.
Clearly, there was a price to be paid for the approach taken by Blair and Brown.

10:27 am, June 11, 2011

Blogger jean said...

Sorry Luke,that your dreams that day were not realised....Tony knows his loss of people support was to form an alliance with George Bush and go hand in hand with attacking Iraq.
I loved the Labour Party for it's socialist values and it's working class roots...I thought there was no going back. We did get on the road to making Britain a more equal place to live, but the bubble burst. Most politician's now have public school backgrounds and have gone straight into politics. They have almost no life experience and certainly have no connection with the working classes or the new proletariat (benefit scrounger/undeserving poor). These were the people who lost out in Blair's govt. Unfortunately, the numbers grow larger every day and they have many voices calling out for a changes in today's politics...Marxists, Leninists, New Age, Unemployed, Disabled...too many to name.
Tony Blair sold out to the bankers, he made no change to the distribution of wealth... The poor are still getting poorer and the rich, richer....What choice do they have? A politician is a politician. They're all in it together and we blame them all so why bother to vote.....

11:18 am, June 11, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a great day for me too Luke - but unfortunately I too never fail to be amazed by those who think that the Labour party has to appeal only to a narrow section of society - The mythical working class roots.

I was a part of that mythical working class - my parents voted for Margaret Thatcher (actually they voted for Elizabeth Peacock - the hanging MP - who was less bright than Thatcher) - where previously they'd swung backwards and forwards between Labour & Tory.

I'm not working class any more, and don't live in a Labour seat. Do I change my views though ? I do not ! Do I have a Mercedes or a BMW ? I do not ! I do have a rather nice Toyota though, which I paid for with well deserved and hard earned money. Does it make me want to vote Tory ? It does not !

If we're saying that people who succeed in our mixed economy are not people that Labour can represent, then we're kissing goodbye to Government for ever.

If we say that you can only be a Labour "type" if you don't drive a nice car, then we don't deserve to be elected.

Labour is for all. Nor just for some.

1:11 pm, June 11, 2011

Blogger Bill said...


hypothetically, if Tony Blair's victory had come at the price of a different sort of compromise, say, (in an alternative reality) unilateral nuclear disarmament, wouldn't that have dampened your enthusiasm for his government?

11:19 am, June 12, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd never previously heard that Neal Lawson was in Southgate on THE GREAT DAY.

I have two earlier stories relating to that consituency.

1. Woman who was at Cambridge with my wife and lived in Hadley Wood left the Labour Party and joined the Communist Party.

2. Man who worked with my wife and went to footbal matches with lots of my mates was run over and killed on a zebra crossing.

His funeral was at the Orthodox cathedral in Wood Green, the only time I've been to a service of that faith.

The Wake was in Hadley Wood. Very large detached house with whtie columns at the front; evidently the home of a prosperous Greek Cypriot business family of north London.

We were asked to put our coats in a teenagers bedroom, which featured a four-foot square poster of Vladimir Lenin. Definately the home of a prosperous Greek Cypriot Business family in north London.

9:34 pm, June 12, 2011

Anonymous Ben said...

Quite right, northern heckler. The Labour Party has to be a One Nation party of hope and opportunity and therefore supporting it should not require one to abstain from wanting the best for oneself and one's family. It is clear that class is a very important issue that affects life chances, but that sort of crude reductionist politics that brands anyone who doesn't live in council housing or work in a manual job as a sell-out is actually entirely anti-humanistic.

This is a brilliant piece. It goes some way to describing the dismay that I certainly feel at the billious and sour oppositionalism that is now and has been since the 70s so rife on the left.

Neal Lawson can take his pinched, entirely counter-productive, traitorous politics and go screw himself. Sneering at and casting aspersions on people living in nice houses and driving beamers - isn't this the man who used to work in the City and drew 60k "consultancy" fees from Compass in a twelvemonth - ie, isn't he what he hypocritically affects to despise? Can others too not transcend their immediate class interest and support Labour? The man is dross.

4:06 pm, June 14, 2011

Anonymous steve said...

Luke. Another bloody rant. Me thinks the article you are having a pop at will (and does) appeal to thr vast majority of current and former labour voters. The party is in a prolonged period of reflection following an truly historic defeat. We all felt good in 1997. The intervening years may not have dulled your enthusiam, but the point is they sent many labour voters packing and that is why ee need new ideas and policies to come to the fore to win back voters hearts and minds like we did in '97.

1:35 am, June 15, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Neal Lawson can take his pinched, entirely counter-productive, traitorous politics and go screw himself"

Ben once again displays his formidable debating skills!

Hang on a minute, I missed a bit:

"The man is dross"

11:22 am, June 15, 2011

Anonymous Ben said...

Any comment about the disloyalty inherent in seeing betrayal before even the first vote was counted? No? Any comment about the hypocrisy inherent in slagging off the "wealthy" whilst sucking 60k fees from the organisation you affect to care about so much? No?

Oh, sorry. I almost mistook your carping for a genuine comment.

6:49 am, June 16, 2011

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we misuse the word class, when we mean money / wealth? PS The top 50% pay 89% of all income tax.

10:23 am, November 27, 2012


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