Saturday, May 01, 2010

Happy Anniversary! 13 years today since the new dawn broke (did it not?)

Where were you on May 1st 1997? (Not the glorious sunny day on the 2nd as the results became clear, but on the equally glorious sunny day of polling day)

I was in Linthwaite, HD7, in the HQ of Colne Valley Constituency Labour Party, Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

I was the campaign organiser for Labour in this three way marginal. Graham Riddick was the Tory MP, in trouble for taking cash for asking questions in Parliament. Kali Mountford was the Labour candidate and Nigel Priestley was the LibDem. The seat had been represented by all three parties in recent years and was wide open for a Labour victory.

I was sent in as the organiser in about March 1996 in expectation of an election that was not called for a long time so by the time it happened I had been there for a year.

Here are a few short memories of polling day, May 1st 1997.

I had 8 campaign centres and we phoned each other regularly on the hour throughout the day.

Each campaign centre had their own polling station agents who could pop in to any voting place and ask how many people had voted up until now so we could judge the turnout.

Every report I got back - courtsesy of my volunteers Colin and Darren showed that people were queuing to vote, this was one election when we needed to do nothing to get people voting, they were desperate to see a Labour government.

At about 1pm, as I was driving between campaign centres, seeing how things were going and thanking everyone for their efforts, I stopped on the side of a rural road with a fabulous view of the Colne Valley (High House Edge) and prayed, in the warmth of the summer sun, that we could make this happen.

I was very anxious to see the back of the Tories. Peter Lilley who was the Secretary of State for Social Security had said there was no poverty in the UK because everyone had a TV. I was desperate that he lose his position and never be heard from again.

And neither did I want to hear from his colleague Ann Widdecombe who as the Prisons Minister had insisted that women who had come to prison pregnant should give birth in hospital whilst handcuffed to their beds, just in case they might try to run off and also one man on his death bed through AIDS was also handcuffed to his hospital bed.

This kind of attitude was what got me up early every morning and kept me going until late every night.

I remember that we prepared so well, it being such a long lead-in to the election, that I had proper campaign centre kits for each one, including stuff we never used, like plasters for blisters, headache tablets, torches in case we were still knocking on the doors of our supporters after dark, elastic bands, highlighter pens, staplers....

I remember on May 1st 1997 seeing cars bearing Tory posters for Marcus Fox driving around our patch. He was the Conservative member for Shipley (near Bradford) West Yorkshire and was the Chair of the 1922 Committee - the group for all Tory MPs in Parliament to belong to. He had obviously sent his troops to help Graham Riddick. they were clearly worried.

(Marcus Fox was too cocky, he thought he had his own seat in the bag, but actually he lost his seat to a lovely young Labour candidate who went on to become a Labour minister - Chris Leslie.)

And I remember that by 8pm every one of our Labour promises had been out to vote and were back home enjoying their family lives. By 8pm every campaign centre was phoning in to say there had been a great turnout of voters and more importantly every Labour promise had voted. The only people who had not actually been to vote, who we could not tick off our lists, were away on holiday or had died since the canvass.

A great day

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