After 18 years of Tory misrule, there was a certain national euphoria at their ousting. Blair and his new government were seen as a bright new hope for a country that had been downtrodden by its leaders for decades. Once in power, they became another government, another thing to criticise, another focus for peoples rage. Diana died too, and the jubilation that swept the country in May dissipated into a national outpouring of grief.
Blair’s government have had their own fair share of trouble from political legacies they inherited, the old guard and other unpreventable factors, including the fuel protests, the Countryside Alliance and Foot And Mouth Disease. However, it is the PM’s willingness, even eagerness, to go to war that will most likely mark his tenure at Number 10. Kosovo and Sierra Leone carried the mark of ‘humanitarian intervention’. He happily bombed Iraqi no-fly zones with pal Clinton. And then came his cosying up to the Bush administration (amongst my many reasons to leave the country), going to war again in Afghanistan despite Britain’s long history of ultimately failing to subjugate the Afghan people, and of course the ongoing disaster that is Iraq.
The Labour government claim a long list of achievements of their time in power too, and while the country has clearly improved in many ways, Iraq has divided the country from its rulers and damaged Britain’s standing in the world that will probably be felt for generations to come.
This piece captures some of the almost innocent pre-9/11 era, when people were just getting used to complaining a little about the government again and evokes seaside Brighton too.
1997 was certainly an interesting year. 2007 is still so full of fear.
Now that the ‘peoples’ government have become just ‘the government’ following numerous blunders and U-turns – tobacco, fees and benefits for instance, we can all heave a sigh of relief and get back on with complaining.
But if you can cast your minds back to the beginning of term…
…Brighton, throughout the summer months a decidedly ‘relaxed’ town, always undergoes a period of frantic activity during the transition between late summer and early winter (end of September to beginning of October). The biggest impact, after the tourists, daytrippers and foreign students have eaten their last ice cream cones and thrown their final stones into the sea, is the return of the tens of thousands of students who pass through the two universities every year. If that doesn’t swell the town’s ranks enough, the students are joined by the politicians, reporters and policemen who start to filter in throughout the weekend.
By Monday, the Annual Labour Party Conference bestrides the hotels and The Brighton Centre, cordoning off the seafront and returning the gaze of the eyes of the nation. The Palace Pier appears on TV at least 10 times a day as some Westminster luminary or other trot out in front of the cameras for their comments on what’s going on ‘inside’.
Brighton is often the scene of many classic conference moments that define or permanently alter a party’s career. Neil Kinnock found himself unwittingly splashed over Britain’s front pages when he failed to win at the old Brighton game of ‘run away from the tide at the last minute to avoid getting wet’ and promptly fell into the sea. In 1984, the IRA came within a whisker of taking out most of the Government front bench including the then-recent Falklands veteran Margaret Thatcher, with their bombing of the Grand Hotel. 1997 in Brighton will go down as the first Labour Conference in 18 years when they can revel in the knowledge that they are actually in power following ‘those election results’.
Can we still allow ourselves a wry smile at the memory of the evening of May 1st? Particularly as Tory boy Wee Willie Hague (Notting Hill, nice one!)’s firm and decisive direction for the party of ‘No, no, no, we still don’t like Europe’ is pushing ever closer to the icy waters of the North Sea.
Of course I stayed up for Portillo! You wouldn’t go to bed before the winning goal at the World Cup, would you?
Obviously, once you vote them in (whoever they are) they always become ‘the government’ in the end. But (and here comes the point of the piece) haven’t these been strange times to be living through in Britain of late? Especially given the passing away of a certain Ms. Spencer during the summer. Crying in the streets! Most irregular, eh?
So have we finally grabbed hold of the Old Guard of Old Britain, caught them by the scruffs of their necks and shouted back ‘No! We’ve had enough and we won’t take any more. We’re gonna run things from now on and show you how it’s done. Haven’t you heard of caring before?’ With young British music, film, fashion and art trading global stamps with each other, we have an increasingly polarising world as we hurtle towards another Year Zero (or by the Christian calendar at least). There’s a lot more crazy shit yet to come, you can be sure of that.
Winding down the nineties isn’t far off now, (thinks – ‘still haven’t found a decent name for the next decade yet’). But you may find that having spent your youth through them won’t have been the least exciting time of your life. Strange days indeed!