Eight years later, how the party ended for the Cool Britannia set

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It was the party that defined the excitement of Tony Blair's triumphant entry into power in spring 1997. The pictures of rock stars such as Noel Gallagher, co-founder and songwriter for Oasis alongside his then wife, Meg Matthews, deep in conversation with the new Prime Minister symbolised Cool Britannia.

It was the party that defined the excitement of Tony Blair's triumphant entry into power in spring 1997. The pictures of rock stars such as Noel Gallagher, co-founder and songwriter for Oasis alongside his then wife, Meg Matthews, deep in conversation with the new Prime Minister symbolised Cool Britannia.

The moment, the first of a series of glitzy receptions held that summer and autumn, was the highpoint of New Labour's relationship with those in the arts and the worlds of fashion, sport and the media. The parties were seen as a "thank you" to both traditional and new supporters - Oasis had publicly endorsed Blair when he was in opposition - but designed to send a message of a new and different era: Labour wanted to be part of "Cool Britannia".

Some were mocked by their peers, but Gallagher subsequently said that "when the fookin' Prime Minister [sends you an invite], fookin' 'ell, you've got to go." His brother, Liam, Oasis's singer, claimed he wasn't invited - and would not have gone anyway - while Damon Albarn, leader of their great rivals, Blur, did not accept his invitation, saying later: "I knew by then we had all been taken for a ride." But many others - those such as Ralph Fiennes, Lenny Henry, Vivienne Westwood, Felix Dennis, Nick Hornby, Helen Mirren, Harry Enfield, Ben Elton and Nick Park - appeared happy to be associated with the bright new world of New Labour.

While some have since expressed their disillusionment, particularly over Iraq, Gallagher has said he is still backing Labour: "I think it's morally right. I'll always think that, until the Tories present a leader with an ounce of credibility or one that has got half the intelligence of Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. Until then, they are finished in this country."

So, what do some of the other people who were part of New Labour's summer of Cool Britannia now think? The Independent spoke to a cross section.

Vivienne Westwood, Fashion designer

"We were euphoric in 1997 at the party at Downing Street. I was one of the last to leave. I have to admit that, at the time, I didn't follow politics that closely. When I had heard Tony Blair was the new leader of the Labour Party, I was very excited because I thought it was Tony Banks.

"But I certainly know who Tony Blair is now and there's no way I would vote for him. It's because of the Iraq war. I never believed the 45-minute claim was true. They lied to us. They are awful people. The suspension of habeas corpus by the Labour Government also deeply concerns me. It is the cornerstone of civilisation. It is terrible that people don't have the imagination to think what it is like to be arrested in the middle of the night, indefinitely detained and never told what your crime is.

"So, like a lot of people, I feel alienated from politics. I don't want to vote Tory because they also supported the war. However, I believe in voting so I will be voting Liberal Democrat. You have to go for the least bad option and I applaud their opposition to the war".

Meg Mathews, Noel Gallagher's former wife

"I was in a state of shock when I was asked to the party. My mum is a socialist and she couldn't believe that her daughter, a former punk rocker, had been asked to a cocktail party by a Labour prime minister.

"At the party, Cherie gave me a tour of the house and I was really struck by what a family home it was - complete with ketchup on the kitchen table. They also had an Oasis disc on the wall. It was so surreal.

"Eight years on, the Labour Government has had its problems. I wasn't happy about the way it used intelligence to justify the war in Iraq, but I think they've achieved a lot. They have brought in the minimum wage and massively increased spending on health and education.

"I may not be as excited about voting Labour as I was in 1997, but there's no other party I'd rather vote for. I have no desire to see Michael Howard in Downing Street. I certainly wouldn't go to a party at his place."

Tony Robinson, Actor

Representing Equity, he was a member of the Labour Party's national executive committee from 2000 to 2004.

"I went to the party with my daughter, who was then 19. I feel as partisan towards the Labour Party as I did in 1997. But I realise now that they haven't got the self-knowledge yet to understand that if you want a new politics, you have to start with yourselves.

"They still have an old-fashioned, elitist approach to governing: they know best and they are going to do what is best.

"The best example of this was the Iraq war. It was allowed to happen because the Labour elite controlled the civil service security committees, the Cabinet and Parliament. It was not a democratic decision. The vote went through the Commons because of old-fashioned machine politics fuelled by threats and anger.

"But, of course, I will be voting Labour. It would be an act of gross naivety to punish Tony Blair for Iraq by voting for another party."

Caroline Charles, Fashion designer whose clothes have been worn by Cherie Blair

"The Cool Britannia party was fun because of the mix of people - Noel Gallagher rubbing shoulders with a bishop - but it all lacked soul.

"In 1997, Tony Blair seemed to be an honest man and a good alternative to the Tories. But today he seems to have exhausted our patience with his empty speeches and untrustworthy statements.

"There is too much centralism in the Labour Party and too little cabinet debate. I was extremely depressed by our participation in the Iraq war, despite the national outcry, the faulty evidence and the illegality of the action. I am also concerned about the layers of red tape applied to schoolteachers and doctors, which stifles real progress and wastes taxpayers' money.

"However, I have been impressed by the economic wellbeing we are enjoying, particularly in contrast with our European colleagues who are still suffering from a downturn.

"I will vote Liberal Democrat because local income tax and other policies will help to devolve power from Whitehall - in Scotland they have proved themselves innovative and responsible partners in government - and they will gather good people around them as they gain more seats."

Joseph Azagury, Shoe designer; now has Knightsbridge boutique

"It was a bit surreal being behind the black door [of No 10] and seeing people of the fashion industry trying to mingle with the grey suits of Westminster. It was clearly a PR exercise and I do not think that the guests' political opinions, if they had any, were really taken note of, but it was great fun.

"When Labour came into power there was an atmosphere of hope in the country after an extremely destructive Tory government, which seems to have disappeared. I feel that Tony Blair has always had good intentions, has had to work within certain constraints and had to make major decisions, such as over Iraq, but he seems to have lost sight of what a Labour party should be.

"As a socialist all my life, I am very concerned that the Labour Party has seemed to move more and more to the right over the course of his premiership.

"I will continue to vote Labour and hope that public opinion and maybe Gordon Brown's possible elevation to leader of the party will transform them back to a true socialist party."

Piers Morgan

Then editor of the Daily Mirror, which became a cheerleader for New Labour. Sacked after publishing fake pictures suggesting British soldiers were torturing Iraqis

"I went to the July party, and the atmosphere was euphoric.

"Celebrities like Noel Gallagher and Mick Hucknall were thrilled to be associated with New Labour. It was a celebratory party with a 'brave new world' feel to it. I imagine that most of those celebrities would think twice about going to a similar celebration now. The party feels like it's over.

"I am not sure who I will be voting for, I will be wrestling with my conscience because of equating Tony Blair with Iraq. If you take Iraq out of the equation, then they have done a reasonable job. If I were the Labour Party I would be telling the public: 'You have never had it so good.'

"There have been some stealth taxes and hospitals could be better, but there is no doubt that there has been a modicum of improvement in public services.

"But if you vote Blair then you get Brown, which seems like a good idea. Economic growth and stability is down to Brown, and Blair has said he will not stand in another election.

"If he gets a thumping majority then he may hang on, but it is like when a football manager says he will go in two years, and then he resigns in six months."

Hunter Davies, Writer and biographer of the Beatles

"I was thrilled to be invited. I met the fragrant Cherie, who takes such bad photographs - and people take deliberately bad photographs of her - but in the flesh she is lovely. It was brilliant, jolly and exciting.

"Surprise, surprise, I am going to vote for them again. The economy is excellent and they have stuck to what they have said they will do. I came out of hospital last Wednesday and the operation was first class, although I could see that the hospital - the Royal Free in Hampstead - was undermanned and worn down. But I am still going to vote Labour.

"I am disappointed by Iraq, and my only worry about Tony is that he gave into Bush. I thought he must know things that we don't know, but now we know that is cobblers. I think he made an appalling mistake."

Margaret Forster, Novelist; her work is said to be enjoyed by Cherie Blair

"I can hardly remember 1997. I was worried if Labour were competent because they had been in opposition for so long, and had an inexperienced, young leader.

"I do not enjoy parties but went because I was interested in seeing the inside of Downing Street. I like to stand in the corner and watch, but find circulating agony.

"But I was very impressed by Tony Blair, he shook hands with a long line of people, and gave a small remark to show that he knew exactly who they were. He made an obscure reference to a book I had written about the Carr's biscuit factory, which seemed extraordinary. He had really done his homework. He is more impressive in the flesh than on television, more confident."

"I now have a lot more confidence in them, and will be voting Labour again. It is hard to forgive Tony Blair for not waiting for the second resolution of the UN over Iraq, but otherwise I think they are doing very well."

Anita Roddick, Founder of the Body Shop

"I've been a Labour supporter my entire life. In 1997, I was so excited about Blair getting into power. But I feel let down.

"The Government's record on international human rights has been bitterly disappointing. The Iraqi invasion has had a devastating cost in terms of human lives and was entirely based on lies. What the hell are we doing being a bloody shadow to Bush?

"I could never trust or vote for Blair again. We need to remove the prerogative powers from the Prime Minister and make him legally obliged to ask Parliament before deciding to go to war. We need to register arms traders and take away their licences if they sell to tyrants.

"I also feel Labour have let the country down on education. I'm an ex-teacher and it's ridiculous that some classes still have 30 kids in them; the Lib Dems want to reduce that to 20 using the money Labour have tied up in their trust-fund gimmick. Labour are full of far too many gimmicks.

"Labour's involvement in the Make Poverty History campaign is great, of course. But everyone's backing that. They've got to go further, stop the rhetoric and really look at slavery, which is part of our economy now. We completely exploit labourers in developing countries to make sure we in the West get our cheap products. Some people say Blair is a strong leader. But that's all crap; what's the point of being strong if your strength is wrong?

Barry Cox, Former independent television executive and former deputy chairman of Channel 4. Neighbour of Blairs when they lived in Islington

"The "Cool Britannia" parties were fun, but irrelevant, and were rapidly seen as such. Much more important, Blair promised to modernise Britain in 1997, and two Labour governments have done that. The economy is well-managed, public services - including, in London at least, public transport - are improving, and the poor are better off. There are devolved governments in Scotland and Wales, and slow progress in Northern Ireland and the House of Lords. On the difficult issues - Iraq, tuition fees, crime, immigration - Blair is on the right side. His big failure has been in Europe, but that might be a blessing. The Third Way has worked, we need more of the same. I will vote Labour with enthusiasm."

Emma Hope, Shoe designer; now with four shops in London and Tokyo

"Mr and Mrs Blair are very nice people and they give good parties. As people, they are wonderful. But even in 1997, I knew the Labour Party would be bad for the countryside. I voted Conservative in 1997 and I'll vote Conservative again this time.

"I remember looking at the political map in 1997, seeing that all the Labour seats were in city centres, and thinking that the farmers had no chance. From the beginning, Labour were keen to meet people like me, but not so keen to meet less fashionable people such as struggling farmers, those who are losing their livelihoods because of the hunting ban, and the families of soldiers serving in Iraq.

"Blair loves Cool Britannia, but I'm not sure he loves Britain. I remember at one of his parties I was telling him about where my family come from in Cornwall and he didn't seem to know where Cornwall was. There is so little understanding in the Government about rural issues. They are not listening. When I asked Blair about hunting, he said to me: 'Whatever the people want, Emma.' But it is not about that, it is about Blair sucking up to his backbenchers."

Brendan Barber, In 1997, deputy general secretary of TUC; now general secretary

"When I accepted the invitation to 10 Downing Street, I had no idea what the guest list was going to be and, of course, it turned out to be quite a curious mix of people. However, it was a very enjoyable evening. I had a long conversation with Eddie Izzard. He's a passionate pro-European, so we talked about that.

"Clearly hopes were very high, but I think Labour has a record to take some real pride in. In 1997, one of the major issues for us was the ambition to achieve a full-employment economy and, while that has not been achieved in every part of the country, their record is hugely impressive.

"I've also been very impressed by their commitment to public services. Of course, many trade unionists were deeply uneasy about the Iraq conflict, but the balance sheet is very positive. I have always supported Labour and will continue to do so."

Anthony Scrivener QC, Barrister and former chairman of the Bar Council

"I seem to remember that I went to two parties, one at Chequers and one at 10 Downing Street as soon as Blair was elected. It was a happy party, but I grew disillusioned very quickly. Firstly from the attacks on the jury system, and I remain cynical about changes to the appointment of judges.

"The war was the last straw. I went on the anti-war march but had already joined the Liberal Democrat Party by then.

You cannot trust the Labour Party. I was very disappointed, having worked hard over the years to get them in. The problem was, I had forgotten that Tony Blair was a Conservative. When the charisma is put to one side, it becomes clear. All my views reflect the Liberal Democrat policies. I think I have found my home."

Margaret Drabble, Novelist

"I attended the party with more curiosity than hope, having voted Lib Dem. I've no idea why we were invited. Not many writers were there, and a lot of showbiz people whom I didn't recognise. Tony Blair spent a lot of time in an alcove being photographed with Oasis. I didn't know what Oasis was, but he did.

"Not a promising occasion, on the intellectual, artistic and social front, but not as bad as what followed. The Iraq war and British collusion with the US over Guantanamo were deeply shocking. I am voting Lib Dem again, this time in Somerset, where it counts for more."

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