In 1997, I voted for the first time in a British general election, and voted Labour. I was woken up on the morning of May 2 by a knock on the door of my room at college and the amazing news that the Conservatives were out. The “nasty party,” the party of Margaret Thatcher and the Poll Tax and an endless shower of racist homophobes, was out after almost two decades in power.
Any lingering doubts about “New” Labour’s shift to the center — and about the fact that Tony Blair, the new prime minister, seemed like the kind of man who’d say anything to win — were quieted by the fact that I was 19 and not particularly politically educated. The sun was shining and the Tories were out. Labour’s campaign theme song, “Things Can Only Get Better” by the Northern Irish pop group D:Ream, seemed to have come true. We’d done it.
Things Can Only Lurch Rightward?
One could fill a whole series of articles chronicling the ways in which Labour under Blair failed the promise of that day in 1997: abolishing grants for higher education and replacing them with loans while introducing tuition fees, stealthily chipping away at the National Health Service and other public services through public-private partnerships, giving us home secretaries who shamelessly pushed anti-immigration and “tough on crime” rhetoric. But the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the UK’s willing participation in the entire “war on terror,” remain Blair’s bloodiest and most bitter legacy.
To ensure re-election, Labour ran on a platform of triangulation and fear: their strongest message was essentially “You don’t want the party of Thatcher to get back in, do you?” — or literally, “Be afraid” — while they drifted closer and closer to Conservative policy and rhetoric. This strategy may sound familiar to people in the US.
It had dismal results: after a huge jump in 1997, Labour’s share of the vote plummeted in every election while Blair or…