Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Comment: May 1997: Twenty Years On

From London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter #61 (Summer 2017):

May 1997: 20 years on


Do you remember where you were on May 1st and May 2nd 1997? You’ll probably need to be in your mid-30s at least to have any recollection.  Since I’m 60 I well recall going on the London May Day march on Thursday May 1st (it was sunny) and later joining an election party in Tottenham hosted by the left to celebrate what we anticipated to be not so much the forward march of Tony Blair but the demise of the Tories.

We duly got there with the defeat of Michael Portillo in Enfield Southgate, a North London constituency familiar to many there. Many of the main players of the 1997 Labour election victory are both still active and have active agenda. Some, such as Robin Cook and Mo Mowlam, sadly are not. That means that the 20th anniversary of those May Days is not yet history but a staging post towards it.

The People’s History Museum is running an exhibition and a series of events on 1997 which will be worth checking out. It’s hard to avoid however a distinct New Labour bias to matters. It’s important to remember that there were numbers on the left who while very keen to see the Tories out of office, knew perfectly well that Blair would not mean an advance for socialism.

That said, and this needs to be underlined, these were days of celebration. After visiting a baker’s picket line in Tottenham on Friday 2nd May, I made my way with a significant hangover to the Reading beer festival. A lower key affair then than it is now, I sat in a tent with my partner Megan and listened on a portable radio that late Friday afternoon to Labour Cabinet appointments. (no mobiles or interwebs easily available then). I was 40 in May 1997 and I’d been 22 the last time there had been a Labour Minister. As we know it didn’t turn out as claimed or as many had hoped. However understanding that moment in May 1997 as it actually was is important in grasping the eventual sense of failure and the scale of it too.

Keith Flett

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