Our Century

The night New Labour triumphed

Paul Cowley, Bloxwich
Born 1977

Paul Cowley

"During the early hours of May 2, 1997, I witnessed one of the most symbolic moments of recent political history. On TV stood a bemused Michael Portillo, the most powerful disciple of Thatcherism, grinning in disbelief as his and the Conservative Party's aspirations crumbled.

"My life had been dominated by Mrs Thatcher and the beliefs she espoused. For many she gave Britain a strong, single-minded identity. As a youngster, this period represented something very different. I remember the fear that shook me as a four-year-old when watching the Handsworth riots; completely misunderstanding why Britain needed to go to war against Argentina in 1982; the tension that accompanied the strikes and many other disputes of the decade.

"Like children rebelling against their parents, we jeered and heckled on that fateful May morning unaware that our biggest political lesson was still to come. The wave of optimism sweeping the country soon vanished. Labour is as distant and aloof as its predecessors.

"The Government still appears riddled with scandal and corruption, institutional racism still exists and NHS nurses continue to earn a pittance.

"No politician has yet to give a satisfactory argument why we should or should not enter the single European Currency, and the last few months have proven that the "special relationship" with America is that between a lap dog and its master. Symbolically, Mr Portillo's fall may have meant a great deal but for the Thatcher generation it increasingly means nothing at all."