A song came on the radio the other day; a silly and trivial pop song. As the first few clunky bars bounced out of my car speakers, I found myself gripped and confounded by a wave of overwhelming nostalgia. The song was ‘Things can only get better’ by D:Ream.
The Labour Party picked the tune as its theme for the 1997 British election. I hated the choice at the time. Why not something by Oasis? Perhaps, ‘Some might say’? Why choose a chirpy bubblegum pop song instead?
I now know the answer. The song was not for me. I physically ached for a change of government having only ever known The Conservatives in charge. Town centres had be ravaged by recession and public services were decaying. Privatised monopolies raked in cash while refusing to invest. I had signed a Socialist Worker Party petition against the Conservatives’ Criminal Justice Bill which effectively banned outdoor raves, characterised as they were by music containing ‘a series of repetitive beats’. The government obsessed over these kinds of illiberal social laws while the economy stagnated. I was ready for a different lot of politicians.
At the age of 16 I was convinced that Labour would win. But the 1992 election was lost to John Major, his stupid soapbox and a scare campaign about Labour’s tax plans. It was the ordinary people who had been frightened into voting Tory in 1992 that Labour needed to reassure and a silly, optimistic pop song was a small part of that.
“Things can only get better,” went the refrain and people up and down the land nodded their heads and thought, “what have we got to lose?”
In May 1997 I was in my final month of university. We had an election night party. The polls had been looking good but, after 1992, we took nothing for granted. We nervously clutched our beers in a room in College where we had rigged up a TV. And we waited.
By the time Michael Portillo fell, we started to realise just what a big Labour win was in the offing. We cheered and hugged each other. We cried. A guy on the floor below complained to the porters about the noise we were making and they came round and half-heartedly asked us to drop the volume a little, leaving us in no doubt at all about where their sympathies lay.
I started training as a teacher and entered my first classroom in October of 1997.
Back then, education was a Cindarella service. School buildings were run down. Budgets were tight. The new Labour government brought extra funding and schools were rebuilt, even if the Private Finance initiative seemed an odd way to do it, storing up problems for the future.
In time, I grew disillusioned. New Labour could never live up to the promise of that May evening. We had university tuition fees that I thought were wrong and the asymmetric impact of which made me question the devolution settlement between Britain’s constituent countries. Then Iraq came.
Even in education, Labour moved from sensible policies such as the national strategies to encouraging the diobolical energies of a thousand consultants who wanted to sell us learning styles and thinking skills.
But things really did get better. That promise was honoured.
And I suppose I’m sad because I reflect on the Labour Party today and realise that they have learnt nothing. If Jeremy Corbyn were to choose a theme tune then it would be Billy Bragg singing ‘Between the Wars’ whilst sat on a sack of coal.