Election '97: Proud time for five who found Blair his seat

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The Independent Online
Amid the wild scenes of jubilation at Trimdon Labour Club last night, five men had particular cause to celebrate - the men responsible for creating Tony Blair the MP.

Theirs is a strange story that began over beer and football one evening in 1983. Mr Blair was desperate to be selected as a candidate and had resorted to travelling round Britain begging for nominations.

The last constituency in the country to nominate a candidate was Sedgefield, so, armed with a list of Labour branch secretaries, he travelled north and began knocking on doors. Eventually, John Burton, the secretary of Trimdon branch, agreed to see him.

"We were sitting there, at 9 Front Street South, drinking beer and watching football when John said to us: 'There's a young lad coming to see us tonight. Wants us to nominate him,' " recalled Peter Brookes, 41, one of the five men present.

"I remember thinking, 'I just hope he doesn't ruin the football.' He came in, we gave him a beer and told him we'd talk to him after the game. He's told us since that he had sat in his car outside, wondering what he was doing in this mining village knocking on some stranger's door, and he very nearly turned around and went home."

But Mr Blair stayed and impressed the men so much that they decided to nominate him and worked tirelessly for the young stranger to be shortlisted, a feat they achieved by 42 votes to 41.

The five - Mr Burton, who is now Mr Blair's agent, Mr Brookes, Paul Trippett, Terry Ward and Simon Hoban - have since passed into the Labour Party's folklore.

In the days after the meeting, Mr Burton put Mr Blair up in his house, Mr Brookes lent him a car and Mr Trippett took time off work to drum up support for his nomination.

Only Mr Hoban was unable to attend last night's celebration but his place was taken by Phil Wilson, who joined the campaign later.

"A lot of people think new Labour is some kind of concept dreamt up in Islington," said Mr Brookes. "Well it isn't. It was conceived here. It represents the same values as the people of Trimdon have - they are traditional Labour voters but they desperately wanted to see change. Tony got many of his ideas from talking to the people here. He has cut through all the dogma and simply found out what people want. That is why he has been able to say that not everything Margaret Thatcher did was bad, but he wants to put right what was bad.

"That night, when he came in, we knew we had met someone special. We were right and he deserves the chance to show the country what he can do."