Friday, 11 May 2007

Tony Blair - Recalling Our One Night Stand

Yeah, yeah, yeah, he's gone at last. He had five good years and five bad years. It started with a kiss.

I voted for Tony Blair in 1997. Rather, I voted for the member of the Labour Party who was standing in the Stirling electorate where I lived. It was a duty. The sitting MP was Michael Forsyth, one of the most strident Tory voices in scotland. He had to go, and he did, in due course. I remember he made a decent resigantion speech. So did Malcolm Rifkind, a more moderate and likeable conservative, who was also ousted that night, as the Tory Party in Scotland was eradicated.

It was a bloody good night. I was one year out of university. The Tories had been in power for as long as I could remember. My elder brother says he can remember the Winter of Discontent, when Callaghan lead a doomed Labour government, but I can't. My first political memory was the Falklands war, a military caper resulting from the Thatcher government's incompetence and pig headed insistance on cutting government spending. To save the cost of a super-annuated icebreaker, they ended up paying millions, and an incalculatable cost in lives, British and Argentinian. Mysteriously, the British electorate rewarded her with a massive election victory.

My next signifigant memory was of school teachers being on strike rather a lot, which was okay with me. Point is, the Tories had been in power forever, as far as I was aware. First Thatcher, then Major, miraculously winning his second term in the 90s, and then slowly being crucified by his hoplessly divided party. It was always going to be a good night, the night that got swept away.

It was like a hallucination. It was hard to believe what was actually happen. Everyone knew Labour would win in 97, but I don't think anyone had realised this would mean the Tories would be out of power. It was hard to understand. I can still feel the strange, dizzy sensation when the BBC revealled its exit poll predicting a ridiculously large majority.

I was watching the results with Irish Pete, a good friend who I have lost contact with, sadly. We had armed ourselves with plenty of booze and cigars. The cigars were meant for when Labour's absolute majority was declared, but when we heard that Michael Portillo had been beaten by the rather wet looking Stephen Twigg, we had to smoke them early. No one had expected this - least of all Michael Portillo. His face said it all. He was cast, ratherabsurdly, as George Foreman to Twigg's Muhammed Ali. Like Foreman, he was beaten, but, like Foreman, after the pain had lessened, he set about re-inventing himself as a decent human being. This, of course, meant he could never again be a serious contender to lead the Conservative Party.

It was a bloody good night. With hindsight, I think I can pinpoint the exact moment where it became clear Blairism wasn't going to work, however. With victory secure, Tony Blair was driven to Downing Street. There was a throng outside to welcome him - apparently, shepherded there by Peter Mandelson, to make a good show for the cameras. On wonders where he got them from - most Labour supporters were either unconcious or nursing hangovers. Perhaps they were Tories. In the end, Tony gave them about as much to cheer about as the people who voted for him.

On the steps of Number 10, he paused for a few seconds with his wife, Cherie Booth. He kissed her. It was awkward and unnatural looking. Then he did it again. And that was it. I felt vaguely uncomfortable watching it, and I remember thinking, "Stop that, that's silly, just go inside the door and get on with the job." And in some strange and mysterious way, I feel all the bad things that happened under Tony's ten year reign were prefigured in that moment. The dodgy dossier, the total absence of WMD in Iraq, cash for honours, spin doctory, the evasion of any action on climate change, the failure to follow through on 'The Project' - the formation of an unstoppable force of centre-left political parties - shirking the reform of the House of Lords and Britain's electoral system. It was all there, in that moment, when he went in for the second kiss, the manufactured, for the camera, audience manipulating, did-you-get-it-the-first-time, focus group lead, Mandelson approved kiss, aimed at key voters and designed not to frighten Middle England.

It wasn't all bad after that - the first five years were generally good, the second set of five generally bad, but after that kiss it was clear it was never going to be as good as it should have been. The fact that it wasn't as bad as it might have been is something, but not much of a legacy.

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