Monday, May 5, 2008

End of a Dream

[Labour managed its worst performance in 40 years in this week's local elections]

The second of May is a significant date in Labour’s history book. It marks the beginning and the end of the dream. It’s the date when, in 1997, the united army of Blair’s New Labour marched into power. It’s also the date when, in 2008, Gordon Brown’s bedraggled forces lay defeated, washed up on the arrogance and complacency of its tired, uninspiring leadership.

With a certain nostalgia, I looked up some of Labour’s party political broadcasts from that first triumphant battle. In one of them, Anita Roddick said, “Whenever I’ve spoken to Tony Blair, what comes through is conviction, a sense of what Labour will give. Finally, a politician that is not arrogant. I like the way he looks exhausted. I like the way he’s working.”

On Andrew Marr’s programme yesterday morning, the leader of Labour’s dispirited troops certainly looked exhausted. Yet, extraordinarily, Gordon’s arrogance still shone through. You’d have thought there’d be a modicum of humility, a tiny scrap of shame for the devastation he has caused. But no, this was a man still blind to the mood of the nation. He claimed to be “listening and leading”, but he wasn’t hearing a thing.

“People need to know we have a strong sense of direction, that we’re putting in place the big building blocks of the future”, said Brown, convinced that the cause of the rout was neither his leadership nor the insensitive and ill-timed decisions he himself had taken, but instead the failure of Labour to explain the big picture, “to get its arguments across to the public”. Boris Johnson got it in one: pompous, overblown, bonkers Boris, now mayor of all London, said in an interview immediately after his acceptance speech, “Brown should go, and Labour should replace him with David Milliband”. Spot on, Boris, though “Dave” Cameron will hardly thank you for endorsing the one man who could keep him from Number 10.

Actually, thanks to the events of May 2nd, there’s now a second man who could keep Cameron from power, and that’s Bonkers Boris himself. To have such a loose Tory cannon as Mayor of London is just about the only piece of hope Brown can cling onto between now and the next election. He must be praying for the first pratfall.

Mind you, it’s going to be hard for even Boris to make living in London a worse experience that it is at present. I still have to travel down there once a week, and count the hours to my return. The tubes are packed, hot and unreliable; in the area where I used to live three women have been mugged outside their own homes in the last month; the congestion charge, which worked for a bit, now fails to curb the jams at all; Heathrow remains one of the most unpleasant airports in the world and blights the lives of half the city’s population. Boris promises to tackle all of these problems. He even wants a new airport in the middle of the Thames Estuary. Hopefully not run by BAA.

I remember the evening of Labour’s first May 2nd very well. I was at Television Centre in London, watching the map of Britain turn red. There was an air of great moment – like another May night when Thatcher first came to power. In 1997 like all Labour supporters I basked in the victory. The tide had turned for good.

This year, for the first time in my life, I voted Conservative. Why? Because the only person who bothered to contact me was my Tory candidate. Veronica Jones, you got my vote because you sent me a questionnaire asking for my views on the problems of my area. You then wrote and said what you were going to do about them. None of your opponents sent so much as a handout. I’ve never met you Councillor Jones, I haven’t a clue whether you’re any good, but you do appear to be listening, and in 2008, that’s a trick that all our politicians need to learn.

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