Remembering 1 May 1997: Things can only get better

1997 was a vintage year.

I met Eric Cantona. I saw Bowie at the Barrowlands. I got married. Oh, and on Thursday May 1st, Labour won a landslide victory, ushering in thirteen years of a Labour government, ten under Tony Blair.

Twenty years after that sunny day, when things really did get better, it is sometimes hard to remember the joy, and relief, we felt when the first exit polls showed the extent of our win.

I was so scarred by the three previous election results, particularly the near-miss of 1992, that it took hours for me to accept that we had actually won.

It wasn’t until I was home from Meadowbank, lying on the couch watching the new dawn rise on television that I realised we had actually pulled it off. I cried. Tear of relief as much of as joy.

It is that moment that keeps me hopeful about Labour’s future, even as I wince every time an opinion poll shows the extent of our woes.

I will not predict the result of this general election, suffice to say we will not win it.

Kez Dugdale, Ian Murray and the Scottish Labour team will fight a great campaign despite what must sometimes seem like overwhelming odds.

My views on Jeremy Corbyn and his team don’t need repeating here.

He is simply the wrong person in the wrong job, and hopefully, like Michael Foot following the 1983 election defeat, he will resign with dignity when the time comes.

Michael Foot, who loved the Labour Party, stood down on 12 June, only three days after our share of vote collapsed to 27 per cent.

His resignation meant that the party could rebuild, first under Neil Kinnock and then under Tony Blair.

Our transformation from the shambles of 1983 to the professionalism of 1997 was a slow, sometimes tortuous process.

There were vicious public battles with the hard left for the soul of the party.

There were false dawns. I will never forget the thrill of the 1992 exit poll which predicted a hung parliament and Neil Kinnock as PM, quickly followed by the terrible, terrible truth of another Tory victory.

And there was much disquiet among many loyal members about the new policies, campaign tactics and organisational methods ushered in by Kinnock, then Blair.

Even the introduction in 1987 of the now, much-loved Labour rose, was greeted with anger and dismay by otherwise moderate comrades who preferred the red flag.

But we stood together over those long hard years from ’83 to ’97.

We debated social justice and economic efficiency. Campaigned for devolution. Won local council after local council.

We mourned the death of John Smith. Sighed with relief when the threat of a Militant takeover of our party disappeared, we thought for ever. And we modernised Clause 4.

It was the strength of our common endeavour, not Alastair Campbell’s spin doctoring or Peter Mandelson’s campaign prowess that won the 1997 general election, important though those two were to our renewal.

It was our shared belief in something bigger than ourselves, in yes, solidarity, tolerance and respect that kept us going through the long, long CLP meetings of the ’80s and early 90s when we thought we would never win again.

So if we lose on 8 June, and lose badly, we should take time to mourn. But not too long.

Because then we need to rebuild our party, just as we did in 1983.

As then, Labour today has a new generation of very able politicians and activists who have the skills, the guts and the heart to renew Labour.

It won’t happen overnight. We were out of power for 18 years from 1979.

But if we hold fast to our core belief that we achieve more together than we achieve alone then, with time, things can only get better.

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