It’s a strange feeling when a long standing government is in its last months and slowly drifts out of power. They can’t acknowledge that, of course, but we are now all thinking of the days when Gordon Brown has moved on and asking ourselves who will be the next Labour leader, and what will David Cameron be like as Prime Minister?
There is, of course, none of that euphoria we saw in 1997. The collapse of the Major government, after 18 years of Tory rule, sparked a national celebration, young faces at the top, Blair’s babes, ‘things can only get better’, Michael Portillo defeated etc. This fitted in with society with ‘cool Britannia’, Britpop, 90s fashion, lots of flag waving. At long long last the Conservatives were gone and the party can start.
Now they are coming back! This is the hard bit. It took so long to get rid of them but ten minutes later they may be returning – the days of using unemployment to control the economy (it was a ‘price worth paying’), tax perks for the wealthy, spending cuts for the rest of us etc. The only good bit will be watching them self-destruct next time there’s a European treaty on the horizon despite the damage this will do to our interests in Europe.
The Labour party of 1997 was completely different to that which lost power in 1979 and much different from the Neil Kinnock party in the 1980s. New Labour changed itself beyond recognition and captured the then spirit of the nation. Now New Labour is tired and bankrupt (as is the nation). But have the Conservatives changed? Are they much different from the Conservatives that were hammered in 1997? I am not so sure.
And what about us in the Lib Dems? We have grown – we control or share control of numerous councils around the country, we have governed in Scotland and Wales, and we have more MPs than any third party since 1929. The days of a handful of Liberals and lost deposits are long gone (although it must have been fun sitting around a table with Cyril Smith and Clement Freud). But we must keep going, keep the pressure on, keep campaigning – as we are needed. A country that only has the choice between Gordon Brown’s Labour and the 'nasty' Conservative party in an out-of-date unrepresentative centuries-old political system is an unlucky country indeed.
Let’s hope we have a good year next year. If there is a Conservative government, the country will need an effective opposition to keep them on their toes, and that’s where we come in.