LDVideo: What are your memories of 15 years ago today, 1st May 1997?

It’s exactly 15 years ago today that Tony Blair led New Labour to a landslide general election victory over John Major’s Tories, and Paddy Ashdown saw the Lib Dems secure the largest third party representation in the House of Commons since 1929. Here are three videos to remind you of a quite extraordinary night…

The exit poll predicts Labour’s landslide

That Portillo moment

David Dimbleby recaps the night

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • David from Ealing 1st May '12 - 9:13pm

    I remember that I had a committee meeting at work on the Friday morning. I couldn’t get out of it and had been up late for the election.

    When I came out of the tube at Goodge Street there was a buzz about the place. Smiles and laughing all indicated that the bulk of people were happy. And most people at the meeting didn’t really have their minds on its business.

    Pity that we were conned.

  • I remember feeling relief yet after watching Blair’s waffle i mean acceptance speech I knew exactly how banal and ghastly the next 13 years were going to turn out.

  • Nicola Prigg 1st May '12 - 9:50pm

    I was 8. Remember when the TV news was on everyone seemed happy. I remember totally not getting the red team/blue team thing, I was 8 after all. I remember thinking this guy is going to be running the country, this is important so watched. Remember confusing Major and Straw up.
    I can’t remember much.

  • Ruth Bright 1st May '12 - 10:14pm

    Seeing the first boxes come in in Southwark and Bermondsey (they were absolutely dreadful) and feeling physically sick as the Labour candidate went around punching the air. Things got better of course!

  • I remember the turmoil of the Winchester count, with the votes see-sawing around, and Eileen Tilby, one of our activists, drawing my attention to the fact that votes which we had thought had been disqualified had found their way back into piles which were being counted. It was daylight by the time the Returning Officer called a halt: the Tory agent was in tears. My partner Jenny insisted that I called Candy Piercy who was co-ordinating the South Central campaign from Eastleigh so I went to work and phoned her, and she set about drafting in reinforcements. I went into the back yard and lay down on the stones in the early morning sunshine and went to sleep. I was woken a while later by one of my staff who had been phoned by someone in the neighbouring building very alarmed at the sight of a man’s body outside our premises!

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 1st May '12 - 10:25pm

    At a post-election party, being very elated and going particularly mad when I heard that Evan Harris had won OXWAB, then going home at 6.30am and witnessing a road traffic accident.

  • Philip Rolle 1st May '12 - 10:29pm

    I remember thinking “OMG they’ll be in for two terms now”. Of course it was worse than that. And they could still be there if they had gone to a younger leader when Blair retired, or had Gordon Brown gone to the country in October 2007 as he ought to have done.

  • Ah yes, I remember it well. Came up from Christchurch mid-morning after doing a good morning round, got a cab from Ealing Broadway station to my house to drop off my bags and vote and was somewhat surprised to find my housemate had turned it into a Labour committee room for Steve Pound (though my LD poster was at least still up in my bedroom window)! Then spent the day knocking up in Richmond before going to the party at Pizza in the Park and cheering at appropriate moments!

    Can remember the next day even more clearly – at my desk in the leader’s office from lunchtime, putting together a note of our new expanded parliamentary party and their majorities, trying to identify where Northavon actually was and nervously waiting to see if we could add Winchester, which went on, and on, and on, with all of us sat there waiting for the next call to let us know how it was going. Finally to a birthday party in a bar where we had the surreal spectacle of most of the Lib Dem leader’s office dancing to Labour’s campaign theme song the night after the election!

    Then spent most of Saturday watching my video of Armando Ianucci’s Election Night Armistice with the inflatable party leaders. Quite brilliant! 🙂

  • Richard Dean 1st May '12 - 11:39pm

    I was happy that someone competent and reasonably compassionate had won. It was a great relief. I do not share the cycnicism of the clever people. Most UK politicians are fallible, not bad (exceptions include the BNP). I felt that a third term was a predictably bad choice. Like everyone I was certain that an unelected Brown would mess up, but I didn’t expect the amount of damage that was actually done. Pity the conservatives then got in.

  • Liberal Neil 2nd May '12 - 12:05am

    I remember a crowd of students wearing orange wigs and face paint handing out ‘bar chart’ leaflets at the May morning celebrations in Oxford with the slogan ‘Before you go to bed, go to vote’ and the bars made of different height pint glasses and later feedback that polling station staff were somewhat bemused by drunken students queuing up to vote for Evan Harris.

    I remember not believing the figures I was getting from my ring rounds of the Committee Rooms because the figures looked too good to be true and wondering, as I had spent the campaign doing, what the Tories were up to that we hadn’t spotted.

    And I remember at about 4pm in the afternoon one of the student helpers, a nice German chap called Phillip, coming into the HQ to find me eating a burger, and asking whether we were winning or not. My reply, with ,mouth full, was: “If we aren’t winning do you think I’d have time to eat this burger?”.

    And then I remember the count, which was slowed down by having to verify both the General and County ballot papers before counting the General Election votes. And I remember, once our votes were piling up, ringing Evan’s minder to tell him it was time to bring Evan to the count. And then he managed to turn up just as they had put a batch of 5,000 of our votes into a ballot box, so that it looked like we were behind. The look on his face was a picture.

    And then I remember driving to Kennington Village Hall, where the hardiest of our activists were still watching the TV coverage, and arriving to a huge cheer.

    And then I remember thinking “Oh bugger, the County Council Count starts in three hours!”

  • After the Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush count, I went to County Hall to hear Blair speak about a new dawn rising. I was 8 in 1979, so it was my first chance to see a change of government, and yes, it was exciting. I had a good spot to watch him give the speech, but I gave it up to a Belgian television crew. Selflessly, I didn’t want to deny the people of Belgium the chance to be part of it. How naive I seem looking back, although I don’t share the view that they were no different to the Tories. Labour made big changes (Devolution, minimum wage, independence for the Bank of England – these things would not have happened, and – who knows – maybe the Tories would not have invaded Iraq?)

  • I went to Politico’s on the day for a cappuccino. I wore a Liberal Democrat tie: I was swimming against the tide back then -most of my acquaintances were Labour but I wanted the Liberal Democrats to do well.

    I remember staying up very late as the results came in. I recall being shocked and surprised by Michael Portillo losing his seat. I remember how Martin Bell took out Neil Hamilton: seat after seat after seat fell. It felt like a revolution, as if the country was shaking off a tired, discredited regime and had sucked some clean air into its lungs.

    I wasn’t a fan of Blair, but I thought, “This is good, this is right,” and that it was time to move on. I remember the next day, the relentless coverage, the beautiful sunshine and warm weather in London, and Blair going to see the Queen. Then I remember his arrival at Number 10 and being greeted by enthusiastic crowds. The moment seemed delicate: sunlight and optimism entwined. How far we fell from there, how disappointed we all were, and now it seems like such optimism is unlikely to reappear anytime soon.

  • Christian De FeoMay 02 – 8:08 am…….. My thoughts exactly. Have people forgotten how ‘rotten’ Major’s government was? I voted ‘Labour’ (for the first and only time) and was pleased for most of Blair’s first term. Sadly, as with all governments, the idealism peeled off and ‘normal service was resumed’.

    I love reading from those who, immediately, knew ‘how bad things were going to be’ (our American cousins have a great term for it, “Monday morning quarterbacking”).

    What is more worrying is just how quickly this administration has reverted to ‘normal service’.

  • @jason

    My thought with Blair was, “There’s got to be a catch.” He was too polished, too slick and he was aided by a Tory regime that was so decayed and decrepit that it probably was a relief to the Conservatives themselves to be out of power.

    There were a lot of catches: his chumminess with whatever American President happened to be in office at the time, regardless of what that President wanted to do. Bernie Ecclestone. The dark arts of media spin as exemplified by Peter Mandelson. The Blair Brown Feud. And so on.

    But at that moment, it wasn’t obvious. It genuinely felt like a page had been turned: we could have a better, more progressive, even more liberal future and not be in the thrall to the stale, musty Conservatives whose only rationale was the achievement of power. To be fair, Blair did sweep this aside, and that was an achievement. The problem is that Labour, in many ways, became a pale pink imitation of those they defeated.

  • ………………….But at that moment, it wasn’t obvious……………………

    At least you’re honest. There was a wave of euphoria and I, for one, believed Blair (in fact I still think that, at that time, HE believed).
    As far as ‘his chumminess with whatever American President’ goes, Thatcher was far, far worse. In, fact the only PM in my lifetme who deliberately ‘ distanced’ himself was Wilson.

  • Robin McGhee 2nd May '12 - 9:23am

    I was five. I remember vividly accompanying my heavily pregnant mother to cast her vote for Labour. As far as I could see that was the only available choice- I had never heard of politics before then and this new fellow seemed very good.

    Then I went to school. But at four o’clock it was our neighbour who picked me up. My mother was in hospital, he said, so I’d be staying with them for that evening. I had to stay there until it was very late, I got very tired, but eventually my grandma arrived to tell me that I had a new baby brother.

    The end result was that I got the morning of Blair’s triumph off school so I could go to the hospital and meet my brother for the first time. The entire world seemed very excited- and not surprising, I thought, since my brother had just been born. They should be excited. Anyway, although I remember much of the evening of May 1 and morning of May 2 absolutely perfectly, apart from that first trip to the polling station I have no memory of the election at all.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd May '12 - 9:23am

    For me, Wednesday was the big day.
    Let me explain. According to the scripting of the ‘Project’, the new Prime Minister would kiss hands on Friday morning, return to Number Ten and announce the four key positions of state. He would then make the announcement that he had offered Mr Ashdown the chance to join (with unspecified others) his Government (of national purpose?), and had given him until four that afternoon to decide.
    How ‘real’ was that plan?
    Some of you may know that I was on a special project myself at the time and part of that was working closely with a Labour campaigner.
    He had instructions to be at Downing Street for 4.00pm. On that fateful day, the Wednesday, he received a call bringing forward his time to be in Downing Street.
    I knew (or thought I knew) that a big decision had been made that changed the course of history.
    Or was that delusional?

  • Michael Seymour 2nd May '12 - 9:28am

    My memories of 15 years ago are, designing and building sets for a series of commercials in Puerto Rico. Shipping one of them out to an off-shore island in a tank landing craft. It was a productive and creative time and I was blissfully unaware of any political issues in the UK. I wish I could go back there now and avoid all the nonsense that is going on now.

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '12 - 11:00am

    Dan – did you find out which way she voted?

  • Paul Pettinger 2nd May '12 - 11:11am

    I was at the Torbay count, where Adrian Sanders won by 12 votes, after (only) four recounts. A night of high drama, which (quite understandably) got overlooked by the Winchester result.

  • Rachel Coleman Finch 2nd May '12 - 1:54pm

    I voted for the first time, at university in Cambridge. I don’t remember much about the day, but I remember staying up all night in the College tv room with a slowly-dwindling band of fellow students, watching the new government come in. And then I had a 9am lecture.

  • Alex Macfie 2nd May '12 - 8:16pm

    Where is Carshalton & Wallington?

  • Richard Dean 2nd May '12 - 8:30pm
  • Following on from Dan’s story about the LDs looking after a baby to get a vote, I did an 11 point turn in a very narrow road in Twickenham to take a voter to the polling station 10 minutes before polls closed – and lost my rear light cluster. But you know what? It was worth it. (Are you listening Vince?)

    The man I took was ex-army, and had been a heavy smoker. He now had so little lungs left he needed a lift, and assistance into the voting station. He made me promise never to smoke a single cigarette.

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