We asked Jack Thorne - writer of 2ND MAY 1997 - to write a blog post about his memories of the night of Bair's famous first election victory. And he did. And here it is...
I voted at 8am on the way to school. I walked up Dog Shit Alley, waited for TC, in the place where we’d sometimes meet before school and then when he didn’t show I walked into my sister’s old infant school and gave them my slip. I was 18 years old, very focused on getting on in life and absolutely certain this was the start of something special. The booth I remember as being disappointingly small, and I folded my ballot twice before slotting it in the box, before worrying that that second fold had meant I’d spoilt my ballot.
I can’t remember much of the day at school. Exams were approaching quite quickly, and after starting 7 A’levels in my first term of lower sixth I’d finally settled down to studying a more basic three: Economics, Politics and History. St Barts, my school, was a mixed-comprehensive sixth form that took itself slightly too seriously, and I definitely took myself slightly too seriously within it: I tended to talk a lot in class, I was probably talking even more that day. Every one knew I was very political – and were very bored with it - we’d had a mock election at school, and I’d stood for candidate for the Labour Party. I’d lost despite making a speech that I thought was really funny – opening to me dancing to Arrested Development’s Give A Man A Fish And He’ll Eat For A Day, Teach Him How To Fish And He’ll Live Forever – and using this as an example of how to explain New Labour’s central tenet of Equality of Opportunity. People liked it a lot less than I thought they should. But then, people liked me a lot less than I thought they should.
After school I thought about going along to the local branch secretary’s house to see whether I could give any help with leafleting, but I didn’t for two reasons; (i) we weren’t taking ‘getting out the vote’ very seriously in the Newbury Labour Party – in 1992 we’d got the lowest percentage of the vote the Labour party had gotten since the 40s and lost our deposit – most of our efforts were focused on Slough, Reading and Ascot (all New Labour target seats), and I was hardly going to make it out there in time to be useful. (ii) I thought they might take it as a hint that I was desperate to go to the count (for Newbury constituency) later that night. I was, of course, but had a constant fear of people thinking I was trying to invite myself to everything. They were already sending me to the ‘Young Labour Conference’ partly because I was the youngest branch member in Newbury for 40 years, partly because I never stopped talking in branch meetings, partly because I suggested it.
So, instead, I went home and had toast and thought about showering but decided best not because it may muck up my hair, which was looking greasy and lank the way I liked it. No, I just put on my best red shirt, swept my dandruff from my shoulders, tried to make my gawky spotty face look like Jarvis Cocker and waited for 8pm.
Me and my ‘mate’ QD were due to meet outside the Candy Box at 8. This was an era before mobile phones, so when he didn’t turn up til 9 I just had to wait. The Candy Box was kind of a spiritual home, a place of firsts, first fag, first snog, first breast. But that said, on a cold night, wearing only a suede jacket over a thin red shirt it was kind of a shit place to be stuck. He didn’t apologize for being late, he sort of didn’t need to, he knew I was lucky to be spending the night with him. While I was very confident in class and in school, out of school all my confidence would leave me. Like Lazarus, I was nothing without a school tie on.
We went to John Menzies and bought 10 cans of White Lightening for £5 and then took a taxi from the rank to AG’s house. She lived too far out of town (Newbury is quite a rural place) to walk, and there were no buses, and it cost us £2.80 each. This meant the evening cost £7.80 in total, a lot of money considering I was only earning £2.70 an hour at MacDonald’s at the time. I’d grown used to using an hour’s salary as a unit of currency in my head. Tonight was costing me three hours of compacting sweaty bins, frying salty fries and peeling gerkins of greasy windows.
AG’s parents were at an election night party themselves, so we settled in the living room. We turned on BBC1 and opened our first can and then, slowly, the greatest night of my life unfolded....
I don’t think I’ve ever had a night like the night of the 2nd May 1997. I’d like to think myself as being very individual but the truth is I’m very much one of those people who likes being part of a team. If you gave me a t-shirt and told me I was in ‘team A’ within a week I’d be ostracising anyone who was in team B. Put me in Lord of the Flies and I wouldn’t be Jack or Ralph, other than in very specific school situations I don’t have the leadership skills, but I would just behind them screaming at them to ‘kill the beast, cut it’s throat, spill it’s blood’. But the biggest team I’ve ever been part of is the Labour Party. And on that night my team didn’t just win, it annihilated. It was 1966 for me, and the Tory party was Germany.
Since then, obviously, my team has a had a few difficult moments but I didn’t want this to be a play about judging Blair (I’m kind of bored of those plays, and I’m not as clever as David Hare) rather I wanted this to be a play about one of the most significant nights in the history of this country that I’ve lived through. An opportunity to reflect if you like what it felt like at the beginning, leaving the audience to make any judgements they like about what it means for the end. Within a year the era of New Labour will probably be over. I wanted to write something about what it felt like at the beginning. About what it felt like for all three parties, without making judgements on any of them.
Which probably makes it sound very wishy washy and maybe slightly shit. But please come anyway.