My life as a political airhead...

...is history. Democracy and all that: suddenly it all seems, well, exciting, says Amy Jenkins

As creator of Me-generation TV series This Life I have made something of a career out of political apathy. My This Life manifesto - the document that set up the world my characters inhabit and got me the commission from the BBC - contained the following sentence: "As for politics, democracy, the vote and all that, the whole way politics works, politicians arguing for things they don't believe in because they are pandering to extremists - Euro-sceptics, Old Left - or to an electorate they assume to be idiotic - crackdown on crime, back to basics - it all just seems to be exactly what it is; a load of hot air."

Oh, yes? The author of that sentence was moved to cheers and tears as "democracy, the vote and all that" felled Portillo and Hamilton, had Ben Bradshaw hailing a victory over bigotry and record numbers of women sweeping to power. Now, I wake each morning to find that I have been sprung from a jail I hadn't really known I was in. Now I realise that I had a kind of unconscious underlying belief that Tory government was in the inevitable order of things. Seeing is believing, they say, and I am one of the many who has never really known anything but Tory government. All those years I couldn't be bothered with the news - I'd put them down to an unfortunate frivolity in my nature, when all along it was despair.

Before and after: a friend said she wouldn't vote. Oh, no, she said, she wasn't really interested in that sort of thing. Now her eyes are shining and she is grinning from ear to ear. Isn't it incredible, she says, and she really must do something about getting on the electoral register. Another friend, wasn't even able to discern where his genuine sympathies lay until, having voted Tory in a hopeless muddle, he found himself leaping and cheering the Labour victory with the rest of us.

Hindsight. How could we have let it come to that? The last government was the tail-end, the absolute dregs, of a corrupt and rotting regime. Their habitual smugness, self-satisfaction, the sneering, schoolmasterly way they spoke to the press. Now I see I was in denial. I simply had not allowed myself to hate them because hating them would have made my life an angry, miserable place for 18 years.

A vague sense of shame, which dogged me when I lived in Paris last year, is suddenly explicable. Now I see - I was ashamed of how we behaved in Europe. Now I look forward to visiting Europe and holding my head up. I no longer come from a complacent nation of xenophobes who unapologetically poison people with their beef. I might even be the object of envy, what with our charismatic new leader.

And the bottom line is, I'm really proud that Britain is capable of electing a government that is at least willing to make a gesture towards the principle of "caring". It would be hard to exaggerate how fundamental a shift this is, this pride. Because in Tory Britain the survival of the fittest mentality, the hard way, the it-hurt-it-worked way, the market forces way, became more than just a philosophy, it became a kind of moral atmosphere.

It was hard to resist the idea that philanthropy of any sort had had its day, because the Tories just kept on getting elected. It's nice to think that now people who dedicate their lives to making money, will simply be people who dedicate their lives to making money - no longer laying claim to some sort of moral high ground. Getting a little carried away, I'm wondering if there will be quite so much road rage in New Labour Britain.

More change: already I find myself reading the political pages of the newspaper. I eschew my usual diet of lifestyle pieces for the comment page. I have cut out and pinned up a list of the new cabinet ministers and attempted to memorise their names. I intend to listen to the Today show. Why? Simply because, for the first time, I am agog to know what will happen next.

Living with hope. This is a new and astonishing experience. Suddenly, it occurs to me that maybe the turn of the century isn't just a man-made accident of dates. Maybe things really will be different, perhaps it just might be a new era. Electoral reform could bring meaning to politics and bring politics to life - for good. Things can only get better - things may never be the same again.

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