New Labour was a product of its time. History may judge it more kindly than many of today’s critics
It was a perfect May dawn, that moment 20 years ago when the scale of New Labour’s victory became settled beyond dispute. The beauty of the sunrise, the comprehensive wipeout of the Conservatives after 18 years, four defeats and a long and tightly choreographed election campaign produced a sense of euphoria. However hard Tony Blair and the people around him tried to suppress triumphalism, however cool the new prime minister sounded as he announced that he had been elected as New Labour and he would govern as New Labour, it seemed as if everything had changed, for ever. The Guardian reflected this enthusiasm: this election, the editorial at the time decided, “now joins 1945 and 1906 as the third great progressive electoral landslide of the 20th century”.
Like 1945, 1997 was a landslide that had been nearly a generation in the making. Labour had survived an existential struggle between social democracy and the Bennite left. And it had survived defeats – none more painful or damaging than Neil Kinnock’s unanticipated failure in 1992. The monstering of the party leader by the press shaped a party of extreme caution and obsessive media management.