Election `97: `Pinch me - I can't believe they've gone'

Polly Toynbee and Yvette Cooper, commentator and new MP, relive the emotion of a night to remember

Everyone suddenly burst out honking. It kept happening all day, not just outside Downing Street and in Trafalgar Square, but even on the other side of London in the Mile End Road. Honking the old government out and the new one in.

"Pinch me, pinch me. I can't believe they've gone!" said a man among the crowds pressed up against the police barricades outside Downing Street. Early morning, up all night, they came from everywhere.

"If I live to be 100 there'll never be another day like it!"said Mary Thorowgood, 77 who brought a red rose for Blair and a letter to thrust into his hand if she got the chance.

She was there very early to get her place at the front waiting to jeer at Major as he went and whoop for joy as Blair swept in. "I remember 1945 as if it was yesterday. But this is better!"she exclaimed.

Peter Bradshaw had rushed all the way down the motorway from Liverpool. "I was so excited I had to be here. Jumped in the car last night and drove like hell."

Nothing succeeds like success. Everywhere I went people were grinning - and everyone was Labour. Hard to find anyone admitting they had ever voted anything else. Did I have the only cab driver in history who was Labour? They might be a notoriously right wing breed - but not mine, not today. Everyone was beaming Labour.

Some, though, were repentent. 18 year old Natalie Richardson, minding the souvenir stand on the corner of Whitehall confessed: "I didn't vote. Didn't see the point."

But she stayed up to watch the results and how did she feel? "It's a blinder. Bloody marvellous. I really think he'll get jobs for school leavers. Yeah, I should have voted."

One who did was John Hyndman, Whitehall street cleaner, a man in his 30s with a hair lip, cleft palate and a lousy job. "I never voted before. But Labour will help people like me."

"I love him, oh I love him. I want to give him a big kiss! Oh I do!" shouted Jonathan Rickards from Shrewsbury."Next to him was a 66-year- old who'd almost died while waiting six months for heart surgery while the person in the next bed waited only 10 days, patient of a privileged GP fund-holder. "I had to be here to see Major go with my own eyes, " he said.

Pressing up against the monstrous great gates Mrs Thatcher erected during her reign, one person remembered that Labour had promised to tear them down - a good opening gesture for the Blair years.

It had been a long wait since dawn in the bright sun, everyone buzzing with the thrill of history. They spoke of 1945, of 1906. Someone said it felt like the Berlin wall coming down, another that it was like Nelson Mandela's release. High on euphoria, no hyperbole was enough. But many said they never expected this day. "After last time, I never believed the polls. I thought we'd lose again."

"I'll admit it, at first I was iffy about Blair," said a building worker in a singlet. "I couldn't get enthusiastic. I was one that said they're all the same. Nearly didn't vote. But of course they're not the bloody same."

What were they hoping for? Great things. Social justice, Blair's decent society, fairness, hope, an end to meanness. Were they hoping for too much? No, no, they all said, with one voice.

"I know it'll take a long time. It'll be hard. He can't do everything now," said Jim Moor, a care worker from East London. "It may take years, but he'll look after the poor and the working class. I trust him."

Among the the media and the analysts, those who sifted through every speech of Blair's campaign, there had built up a tide of cynicism. But not among these people. They were bowled over by his overnight speeches on television: men and women said they'd wept. They believe in his humility, his emotion, his radical passion.

But could anyone be as good as they need him to be? Can New Labour break the age-old cycle of political illusion and disillusion, as certain as boom and bust in the economy? Today there were only true believers. Tomorrow is another day.

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home