Posted by Laura
"Things can only get better" was the rousing election mantra for the dawning of a new era that heralded Tony Blair’s entrance into Number 10 in May 1997. And trite as the anthem may seem now, the sentiments, at least, were full of so much promise for so many. In Liverpool, where a vast proportion of electors had grudgingly tolerated 18 years of a Conservative government, the atmosphere was jubilant.
As a student in the city who voted for the first time in 1997, it was difficult not to get swept up by it. Whether a Labour voter at the time or not, just by being in a place where many had been given a new lease of life after years of being disillusioned by Thatcherism, it gave fresh-faced students from all backgrounds a sense of hope, too. The atmosphere on the day after the landslide victory could almost touch the emotional high of Liverpool winning the FA Cup against West Ham (almost, but not quite). I was hugged at the bus stop by a total stranger, a middle-aged man who proclaimed, with no shade of irony or satire, what a ‘truly great day for the country’ it was.
With support like this, not just in Liverpool but so many parts of the country, what went wrong? How is it now that even Tony Blair’s own MPs are getting itchy feet for him to go, so much so that they’re resigning themselves? See our special report for the latest news on the party crisis.
If a recent study on the nation’s attitudes is anything to go by, people today feel they were more content in Thatcher’s day than they are now. The BBC poll revealed those questioned thought 1986 was a happier time than 2006. This, as our columnist Hugh Wilson points out in his feature on today’s homepage, is in spite of sky-high interest rates and bloated unemployment figures in the 80s. Maybe as a nation we’re too fond of nostalgia – things were always better "back in the day", or so we tend to think.
So, in 2017, will we be saying: “I remember that summer of 1997. Things were so good back then.”? I, for one, think yes. Just as the cycle of political discontent, following another Iraq war and a series of embarrassments, has come round to slap Blair in the face as it did with the Conservative administration before him, so the country’s cycle of dissatisfaction reaches another crux point again.
Remnants of the supposed great late 1980s are all around us. Who would’ve thought then that we’d seriously be wearing leggings once more? And could we have predicted the resurgent rave scene that’s getting all sorts of officials bandying about the words "Criminal Justice Act" all over again? These things that went out of favour so long ago are making a comeback, and people are succumbing to the recycled trends as if they were new.
Fashion and music revivals are not so far removed from what Blair and his supporters did in 1997 with their repackaging of the traditional socialist Labour of old into the promising, energised party that was ready to take the country forward. So could the answer to the party’s current predicament lie in a simple rebranding exercise? In this respect, could Labour learn lessons from the reincarnated new rave movement? Perhaps it is time to change the image slightly, let new key players lead the way, dump the days of the Things Can Only Get Better theme and get the electorate dancing to a slightly different beat.
And in 20 years’ time, when *Cameron heads into a fourth term/ *New New Labour are surfing a wave of strong public support after storming to victory/ *The Lib Dems finally get their day (*delete as appropriate) and teenagers are hitting the fields, swarming to hear the new wave of new rave, will we look back at that sultry summer of 2006, Blair and all, and reminisce about how good things were, back in the day?
What do you think? Who should replace Tony Blair? How do you think it will affect the outcome of the next election? We want to hear your views, so get in touch by emailing us your thoughts.