Election '97: Labour follows sign to victory bash

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The Independent Online
Cautious to the last, Labour advertised it as the Election Results Night, but the sign outside screaming at the Thames gave it away: New Labour New Britain.

The party had taken over the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank for a victory bash for 1,800 party workers, volunteers and celebrities. The homeless people who inhabit the catacomb-like tunnels underneath the South Bank complex were not in evidence - perhaps having been told to find another cranny for the night to make way for the new party's party.

And the police officers outside also knew they were dealing with a putative government rather than an opposition party as there were groups of them on every corner, and even a short-haired mountain bike rider gave himself away when one of the uniformed officers called him Sean.

In what was looking like the first public relations gaffe of the new era journalists were being told they could not enter until 1am - two hours after the start of the party - but realising this was hardly diplomatic, the press officers relented and allowed in the irate hacks.

Devoid of MPs and major political figures who were all at their counts attention focused on the early celebrity arrivals. Indeed, Richard Branson was one of the very first at the party saying that he had been invited personally by Tony Blair earlier that day and that he had arrived without even knowing whether Labour was winning or not. It was a demonstration of the eclectic nature of new Labour as Mr Branson has steadfastly refused to endorse any political party, despite being Margaret Thatcher's chief anti-litter campaigner for a brief time in the mid-1980s.

There was also the hearthrob actor Neil Pearson, who stars in Drop the Dead Donkey. A lifetime Labour supporter, he had taken time off to go campaigning in the marginal seat of Gravesham. He had a quip ready too: "Tomorrow is the first day of campaigning for the second term in office." He added: "I never thought I would see a day like this."