Letter to Tony Blair
Dear Tony Blair,
You want to catch up with people who met you on the campaign trail in 1997. I met you then.
I remember 1997 quite well. I was full of hope because it seemed that at last the years of tory indifference and sleaze might be over. I thought there might be a more equal society and that truth, justice and peace might come to have more meaning. I wanted to vote for your party.
I met you in Leicester. I was on my way back to the office from the market or the shops when one of your aides or campaigners (an American) suggested I might stop in Town Hall Square to meet the next prime minister. I was a little anxious about being late to the office but my work gives me control over my timetable and it seemed an opportunity to find out about your politics. As I said, I wanted to vote for you.
Something about your programme caused me anxiety. You were very keen to promise no higher taxes - yet I saw poverty, deprivation and need around me. I didn't see how these could be addressed without raising taxes. Some of your supporters told me not to worry because this was just a promise made to win an election and it wouldn't be kept. But I didn't think a leader's capacity to tell lies was a good ground to give you my vote. Yet the Tories had to go. At the time, I didn't believe any other party could be as bad as them.
So I waited for your arrival.
Workmen were erecting scaffolding to provide a platform. In my naivete I thought this was so that you could make a speech and be heard. It was only as the time of your arrival approached that I realised the function of the platform; if would control the camera angles of the press photographers.
Your supporters gave out souvenirs. I've still got the little credit card-sized guarantee that they gave to voters. "new Labour because Britain deserves better" it proclaims, with a picture of you looking youthful and determined. There's a rose next to the word "Labour" in the bottom left hand corner - a symbol of your love affair with the voters, perhaps. I know it reminded me of the Mills & Boon "rose of romance".
The signed election pledges on the back didn't thrill me. They were bureaucratic and target-driven, though of course I wanted my children in classes smaller than 30. Perhaps it was telling that you included "fast-track punishment for young offenders" without mentioning the "causes of crime" that played a part in your speeches. I was mildly concerned that there was nothing about principles on the card.
Your election-workers started the soundtrack. "Things can only get better" played again and again for forty-five minutes as your coach was delayed. It wasn't a good song in the first place. The election workers gave out paper caps, stickers and flags in the new Labour colour of purple - you were ever so concerned not to appear socialist.
The flags worried the assembled crowd. People held them in an embarrassed manner or concealed them in shopping and had to be persuaded into cheering and waving. I was amused as I watched but also worried. It was so very unBritish to wave a flag. But before you got there, the crowd had been persuaded (very slowly) to simulate enthusiasm, which gave way to real enthusiasm. Perhaps you had to be late to allow sufficient time.
I think you said a few words, but I can't remember them. I was fascinated by your deep tan, which contrasted with the pallor of Cherie who walked a constant two strides behind you. "She's a famous lawyer," I thought. "Surely she has something better to do than act as window-dressing." The pallor was a mistake, by the way. It led to the conclusion that you were made up for the TV cameras. (The alternative - a recent holiday in the sun - seemed unlikely, given the campaign.)
Then you started reaching out to the crowd. Everyone wanted to touch you and shake your hand - and you wanted to touch everyone. I made you stop by not taking your outstretched hand. Instead I asked you a question about poverty and how you would address that problem. (It wasn't mentioned on your guarantee card.)
We spoke for a couple of minutes. I had the chance of a supplementary question and asked you about the Youth Training Scheme and its successors - I'd seen something of the YTS in operation when temping nine years before. You looked me straight in the eyes and spoke with a greater appearance of concern and sincerity than I've ever seen in a politician - and what you said was reasonably thoughful, given the circumstances. Then you moved on.
I should have been convinced. I should have voted Labour in 1997. But that encounter persuaded me that I couldn't vote for your party while you were leader. The occasion wasn't about politics or principles, you see. It was about appearance, stage management and salesmanship. I'd been reading Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition. I didn't agree with it all. But her alarm about the loss of a genuinely political space infected me and I saw your arrival as the culmination of all that she had feared.
I was close to tears when I realised this. I wanted to hope. Almost all my friends were voting for your party. I felt like an outsider. But my decision was made.
I later discovered (from a newspaper report) that the annual vigil to commemmorate people killed in industrial accidents had been moved from its usual spot so as not to interfere with your triumphal progress. When I read that, I realised that the beggars who usually haunted the square must have been cleared as well. Someone had decided you shouldn't meet the really hurt and desolate. But you had already lost my vote.
I still celebrated when the results came in. I cheered the "Portillo moment". I arrived at work tired and optimistic the following morning.
For years I wondered if I had been wrong to vote against your party. Gradually I began to realise I had been right. Today I'm relieved I didn't vote for you in 1997.
I'll post this on the Labour Party website - just so you know.
Please don't edit it or pretend that anything in it supports you.
Please resign. And please - say sorry before you go.