It’s ten years since New Labour swept to power and – for large part – changed the UK for the better.
Peace in the north of Ireland; much-needed investment in schools and the NHS; devolution of power away from Westminster; major social reforms such as civil partnerships; the minimum wage; changes to how parliament worked; a breath of fresh about the country with new faces (including making major strides on equality in public life) and a new air of confidence; and, making some important changes to our relationships and role in the world, including in Europe (now going down the toilet!) and successful foreign interventions in, for example, Kosovo. It was not all a shining city on a hill by any means, but on the whole 1997 marked the start of a significant and positive period of change in Britain. To coin a John Major phrase, it was a country more at ease with itself.
This tenth anniversary has brought with it some nostalgia and a celebration of a hugely successful – unprecedented – period for the Labour Party. Obviously, that doesn’t include the current Labour leadership who view that period as one of abject failure; Iraq, Iraq, Iraq and reforms that were nowhere near left-wing enough and not a pure enough version of democratic socialism. Although three times the electorate begged to differ and I hazard a guess would again now.
Incidentally, the main reason that New Labour was successful – aside from Tony Blair (then a huge electoral asset) and the fatigue after 18 years of the Tories who had frankly run out of steam several years earlier – was that they ran from the centre ground of politics. They offered a mainstream, open, inclusive prospectus to the country – exactly as Atlee, Wilson, Thatcher and Cameron have also done. With their own shade of left or right, they all built a big tent and welcomed the many and not the few into it.
This recent bout of New Labour nostalgia – including the excellent Times Red Box podcasts on the subject – got me thinking about the reforming of various former partnerships, teams and the like; getting the old band back together. There is a danger of course that we pop on our rose-tinted glasses and say that politics and public life isn’t what it once was – all the big hitters and big characters have gone. This is not a post heading down that route – even though it feels true – no, this is a reflection on the desire we often have to hark back to the halcyon days, when the skies were always blue and it never rained.
Our memories of the past can overemphasise past glories at the expense of past heartaches. And so often those who are looking to recreate those past glories try to rebuild the team that served them well before. How often does a football manager arrive at a new club and then install his previous backroom team? Under pressure we often go back to what we know and who we know for comfort and support. Gordon Brown bringing back Peter Mandelson springs immeadiately to mind.
When I reflect on my career so far, I think about the ups and downs and the achievements and disappointments, but mostly I think about the faces of the people who were with me in those highs and lows; the people who stood with me, held my hand and fought the good fight. Rather like the imaginary dinner party question (who would you invite for dinner if you could?) I imagine who would I call if I was getting the old work band together. It’s easy really.
I start with the people I trust the most; those in whose loyalty I could rely on without question; those whose company I love to be in, especially when times are tough; those I share the same values with if not always the same opinions; those who can do at least one big thing that I cannot, whose talents complement mine, who will challenge but from the same side of the table; who will always help find solutions and never, ever blame you or anyone else.
I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked with some exceptionally gifted people; super bright, bold and determined, funny and kind, full of integrity, full of brains, full of book smarts and street smarts and full of a desire to make a difference. For me, it’s the easiest question to answer; I have my own workplace Paul, John, Ringo and George on the tip of tongue and would work with them in a heartbeat. That’s why they are now my friends. That is why our friendships span many years and many changes in roles and directions. That is why our relationship is not defined by work even though work started and shaped it.
Shane, Simon, Una and Jon; whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me if I ever tour again.