Leading article: Now relax, and change Britain for ever

Click to follow
Yes, the world has turned over. A continent has sunk, and a new continent, maybe an even bigger one, has risen. A whole new race of MPs populates this place, young, untrammelled by out of date ideologies, relaxed in their social and even sexual orientation, confident of their place in the world.

Let's first enjoy this spring, relish it. Watching the family Blair and all those who love and cherish them cheer all the way through from late on Thursday night to the steps of No 10, who could not help but be touched? You could point out, with a few drops of cold water, that Labour secured the assent of only 45 per cent of voters, which translates into some 32 per cent of the adult British population, which has some significance when we talk about wills and mandates, and what kind of seat majority is actually right and proper. But, accepting the peculiarities of our electoral system - of which more anon - it is absurd to hedge Tony Blair's triumph around with caveats and qualifications.

He now stands a Colossus astride his party, more free to command the British state than - well, anyone really, for a long, long time. Even if he does experience a little rebellion here and there, some Cabinet dissension, a little leftish backbench revolt, it will matter little. His majority is so huge, and so heavily comprised of his New Labour devotees, that he could operate virtually as a dictator unbound. The scale of his win awards Mr Blair vast discretionary power to make ministers, to shape policies, to enthuse, motivate, regenerate, to send signals home and abroad - in short, to remake British politics. His situation is rich in opportunity, and that is why this is such a thrilling political moment. So let's have some thrills. How about offering the Liberal Democrats some ministerial posts? How about remaking British politics, as he said he would?

Tony Blair has a chance of greatness. The first signs are good. He was wise enough to recognise that he should feel humbled by the scale of his victory. There was no trace of overweening pride or arrogance in his manner yesterday. Still, it would be a mistake to let humility turn into timidity. Much will depend, during these early hours in power, on how rapidly Mr Blair and his entourage throw off the clenched reflexes of campaigning, and start to look to the long haul - five, 10, 15 years. It is not just a matter of appointments and offices. Labour's inner circle needs to relax into the historic choices that now confront them. Labour's campaign was sensational: the most professional in British history. (The Lib Dems' campaign was pretty stunning too.) The intelligence and drive that produced such a tremendous victory now needs to adopt a new style: not the hard, sphincter-tight professionalism of campaigning, but the creativity of ideas and administrative imagination that makes a party one of government rather than opposition. Mr Blair said he wants to include, not exclude: let's see his people behave accordingly, all of them. If they do, he can ride this popular wave for a long, long time - after all, the Conservatives are not going to have much hope of effectively opposing for a good while yet.

The Labour leader does seem to be aware of the magnitude of his opportunity. Britain has indisputably voted for a new way forward. But which way, exactly? Apart from acceptance that Labour had reformed, and that the Tories were spent, there was no single "message" from voters, whether about Europe, constitutional change, the National Health Service or any of the items on the formal menu Labour offered. Mr Blair will rightly consider himself bound by his party's central promises on income tax, jobs for youth and the rest - but there then opens a huge territory on which he can range at large.

And that is where he must lead. We hope that he lays a firm hand on his enormous new power, and decides to steer Britain on to a new course, changing the minds of Euro-sceptics all over our land, and winning his party (and himself) over to the need for a lasting reform of the constitution.

The huge fund of goodwill spilling out yesterday could be used by New Labour to fire the populace. Mr Blair could use his astonishing strength at home to lead in Europe. He is fresh, full of potential. He seemed, yesterday, a little awed by the responsibility, and quite right too. But he must use it, quickly, to swing Britain away from its recent political cynicisms and failures.

The test of Tony Blair's mettle will be whether he uses this majority to create the "new politics" he has promised. When the House of Commons reassembles he will point to the mass of Labour MPs at his back and rightly say that with them - the increased numbers of women, their relative youth - come new political responses. But the merest glance at the psephological arithmetic points out what he must also do. First-past-the-post, single- member seats produce unjust results. Conservative supporters in Scotland and Wales have been disenfranchised. Despite their increased seats, the Liberal Democrats have fewer members than their share of the vote deserves. By moving towards proportional representation, Tony Blair's majority gives him an unprecedented opportunity to chance the face of British electoral politics for ever. Thursday night was no revolution in itself: it does, however, provide the most breathtaking chance of conducting a real revolution with the overwhelming assent of the people. And the sun shone, too.