Now that Blair's won, he'll dare all

The new premier and those who will sit behind him owe no debt to the party's history
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The Independent Online
Now he can be bold. And make no mistake, this is a man with a mission, and winning the election was merely the first step in a long journey, to which only he has the map. But in spite of the hopes of many in the Labour establishment, the route is not a return to some pre-Thatcher paradise, where Tony Blair picks up where Labour left off somewhere in the mid-Seventies. This movie cannot simply be entitled The Return of the Left. We are in uncharted waters, and the captain has so far only hinted at how radical his approach may be.

As he unfolds his plans, there will be whingeing from the crew. But it would be an error to imagine that the old-style left-right divide will reoccur. Even those outside the Blair circle are swept up by enthusiasm for him. Diane Abbott went so far as to suggest that Mr Blair might turn out to be Britain's Franklin Delano Roosevelt - New Labour, New Deal. Blair's aim is clearly to make the 19th-century divide in our politics irrelevant. The landslide has delivered him a parliamentary party that will help him in this task.

I wrote last week that a historic transformation was about to take place in the House of Commons, and predicted that the cultural change about to hit Parliament might amaze us all. Little did I guess what was about to unfold. Labour's huge majority will put Mr Blair into No 10 Downing Street for 10 years at least; the wave of euphoria and goodwill is already evoking overheated comparisons. I spotted the first mention of the Kennedys in an interview with Barbara Follett at lunchtime yesterday - New Labour, New Camelot. The presence of the Blair children and those of many around him yesterday reinforce the contrast with an older, grey, Tory leadership. Even the sun shone for him, as he and Mrs Blair walked hand-in-hand in Downing Street.

The party that will squeeze itself on to the benches behind Mr Blair will be younger. It will be more female than any governing party in history. I am sure that the instant analysis will show that they represent a new, less classbound, less tribal grouping than any Labour has returned before.

Last Saturday I discussed the likely influence of the new breed of former student politicians in the new Parliament. There are, it turns out, no less than six former presidents of the National Union of Students in the new PLP; the most spectacular victory of the night, the defeat of Michael Portillo, was scored by one of them, Stephen Twigg. Fascinatingly, Twigg, the most surprised man in the country, instinctively thanked his Liberal Democrat opponents for their tactical voting. This was the crumbling of tribal political loyalty laid naked.

In the last full week of the campaign I interviewed Blair about his policies for the nation's capital. By this point he had become the perfect candidate: charming, confident, focused, unshakeable. He believed that he would win, and had already started to move beyond the campaign. Not only did he have a policy; he had decided what he would do with it. For example, the manifesto for London projected both a directly elected mayor and a directly elected council for London, without making a choice about who would actually run the city. This was clearly a compromise to keep his Environment Secretary Frank Dobson, who hates the idea of a mayor, onside. Yet, when asked directly, Blair did not hesitate for a nanosecond; he opted for what he called a "strong, individual leader" who could bind people together. Sounds familiar? If he were not otherwise engaged, he'd fancy the job himself.

What cannot be said often enough about Blair is this: he is a man who carries no baggage. His clothes, his bearing, his speech hold no obvious clues to his origins. Ironically, though his opponent coined the phrase "the classless society", it is Blair who most accurately embodies it. He has no debts to Labour history, in that he does not come from any of Labour's great battalions - trade unions, leftist intelligentsia, the Celtic mafias with which both Smith and Kinnock were identified. And those who will sit behind him, many of whom I have talked to in The Midnight Hour over the past two years, are equally declasse. Gisela Stuart, whose election in Edgbaston signalled what was to come, could have come straight out of central casting: young, attractive, direct. Even her German accent did not detract from the image. It is precisely the fact that Blair and his new party have broken with the cultural inheritances of Labour that will allow them to do things that Labour would never before have dared to do.

There is a problem, however, that Mr Blair and his colleagues will be wrestling with over the next few weeks. They will have to find new peers, new bosses for quangos, new political advisers, even perhaps new faces for municipal power. Even before the results were coming in, the sycophants were lining up. High in the stomach-turning stakes was Richard Branson's toothy appearance at the Labour victory party, coyly refusing to reveal how he voted, but managing to suggest that he had been on the side of the angels all along, and was now ready to play his party alongside the new masters.

The single biggest triumph for decency in politics was not at Tatton, where the voters had a simple choice. It was in Birmingham and in Welwyn, where the Tory tribe rejected the seductive, poisonous appeal to bigotry of Nicholas Budgen and David Evans. Thank you, all of you.

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