Labour had answers for all of the big questions from general election voters in 1997, writes Richard Angell, director of Blairite pressure group Progress
As we mark 20 years since that remarkable 1997 landslide, it is worth reflecting on why Tony Blair took the country by storm and won three full terms for Labour.
First, he reached out beyond Labour’s tribe – as Clem Attlee and Harold Wilson had done before him.
He did not abuse those who had previously voted for other parties in fact he said he ‘understood why people had voted Tory’. Understanding where people started meant he could take them on a journey to change their mind.
Central was the insight that winning votes from the Tories, unlike switchers from the Liberal Democrats or Greens, count as double – one off their pile and one on to yours.
Second, because what he offered the electorate was coherent, comprehensive and credible. New Labour’s programme was a genuine alternative government not an alternative reality of wishful thinking.
General election voters in marginal seats ask five big questions of the parties before they decide how to vote.
Will you run the economy so I can afford my mortgage?
Will my kids have a good school in the area to attend?
Will the NHS be there when I, or my elderly relatives, need it?
Will the police turn up when a crime takes place and will they have some reasonable chance of catching the perpetrator?
Will the next generation do better than the current one?
In 1997, 2001 and 2005 Labour had answers for all of these. At other points in Labour history they have not – most often they seek to change the questions. Blair sought permission on the public’s terms and answered their question as a modern social democrat. The public responded accordingly.
Third, he refused to accept their was a conflict between economic competence and delivering social justice, and got across that tacking poverty and promoting social inclusion was good for everyone with little or no opportunity cost.
‘Tough on crime and the causes of crime’ spoke to all in New Labour’s coalition. So did the minimum wage and the pledge to match Tory spending plans for two years.
Blair was radical and pragmatic. Having mounted a pre-election head-to-toe modernisation of Labour brand, approach and policies the short campaign was used to reassure people that this was change that was manageable, believable and in their interests.
It worked a Britain became strong and fairer. Devolution, tax credits, academy schools, historic improvements (through both funding and successful reform) to the NHS and enhanced rights at worked were delivered.
New Labour was the first government – ever – to leave office with crime lower than when it took over.
If only someone were prepared to take the same approach, it would not be Theresa May hurtling – if the polls are right – towards a landslide victory she does not deserve, but Labour Party having earned the permission to government again.