Is the enduring legacy of New Labour going to be the point of view that there’s no point in voting ‘cos they’re all the same’? Did they break the heart of the UK body politic?
I was 16 in 1997 when Tony Blair strode down Downing Street kissing babies and clutching outstretched palms. I cried. I went into school the next day and people were giddy, teachers were falling over themselves to talk about it. After all, a new dawn had broken, had it not?
Bernie Ecclestone came along rather quickly and the enduring phrase ‘well, look, I’m a straight sort of guy’.
It was like being in a fabulous relationship with The One. The kind of person both my friends and my parents fell in love with too. Then finding an amorous text from someone that wasn’t me on their phone….Surely not? ‘Darling, it was a wrong number…don’t know who THAT was meant for.’
That feeling of not wanting to believe that he was like the ones that had come before. He was different. And so it went on…
There were sins of commission and omission in about every area of policy that had folks of every shade bouncing from the walls. However, perhaps the greatest punch in the collective liberal (small L) gut was the wholesale mission of the party moving to a Christian fundamentalist, suspicious, authoritarian state which could be best summed up by the sentence ‘You can’t trust ANYBODY, not even yourself’.
So post Iraq, Dr David Kelly, the Bristol flats, Control Orders, DNA Database, ID cards, CCTV expansion….no one was ready to listen to anything about national minimum wage, child poverty, surestart or anything else. Like a philandering lover who has used up very excuse from ‘It’s all in your head’ to ‘I had to stay late at the office’ we became deaf to the promises that ‘I can change’.
There are some things one cannot condone no matter what the context. Which is a shame, and probably deeply frustrating for those public servants who brought about genuine social change in the late nineties and will be forever tainted for their complicity in the social injustices of the noughties.
The bitter disappointments of this period of time where mass protest was met with blanket ignorance and opposition was in short supply appear to have scarred the populous of the country to the point that we have lost our ability to believe it could be any other way. After sticking with the Wrong One for so long, having no one inspiring to go to, we got stuck.
Mark the instinctive reaction to many people who had taken the leap and voted Liberal Democrat in the recent election on finding that the party was to enter coalition with the Tory party. As one of them, I felt initially a little lost. I did not know whether to be furious, confused, cynically unsurprised. But it took a few days for me, and I consider myself a pretty open minded upbeat type, to even CONSIDER that it could be the dawn of something really new and inspirational in the world.
Now, the question is, has the mass disappointment of Tony Blair’s New Labour killed off the ability to listen for inspiration and passion in our politicians and stand with them in creating a world that really works for us? To return to the earlier analogy, can the British electorate learn to love and trust again after being so bitterly, publicly and repeatedly betrayed?
It’s all there. The evidence of the relationship before, the similar optimism and sense of mission, the fear of trusting again and looking naïve and stupid for having not seen it all coming.
To this group of people, convinced of failure and misanthropic intentions, I say this: Let us listen for the inspiration and stand with the team who are now running the country and do everything we can to make it work, and it just might. It just might. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t feel any better if it didn’t for having been able to say ‘I told you so’.