For reasons that will be known to some of you, I normally avoid pubs. But last night was a special occasion, as we went to the Richard Steel in Belsize Park to celebrate with the Labour team who had taken back Camden Council.
The results were stunning, as many of our council election results were. Normally even that would not be enough to get me over the threshold of a public house, with all its memories and temptations. But last night was special too because Philip Gould’s daughter Georgia was among the new Labour councillors who had wiped the floor with the Lib Dems and the Tories.
It meant that despite shared exhaustion, Philip Gould and I were able to have the n billionth conversation about politics, campaigns, TB/GB, Peter M, elections, what just happened.
And Philip said something very interesting about the recent campaign – namely that ‘in a way, I think we should be as proud of the 2010 campaign as any of the previous ones.’
At first glance, it seemed a ridiculous thing to say. 1997 was a landslide Labour win. 2001 ditto. 2005 a good Labour majority despite the Iraq war. 2010 – lots of seats lost, second in share of the vote, the Tories winning more seats.
But what he was referring to were the very different circumstances in which this campaign was fought. Thirteen years in power. A leader battered by an unrelentingly hostile media and a series of attempted coups. The loss of TB’s strategic input on a regular basis; because GB was out campaigning the whole time, his role also different to that of previous elections; outspent by a huge factor to the extent that the Tories could put up millions of pounds worth of posters, whereas we had none; 80 per cent of the print media wholly committed to David Cameron, to the extent that he had the easiest ride of any political leader any of us could remember; fewer staff at Party HQ than in any previous campaign we had fought; a smaller leader’s tour team; a tiny budget for outside help; the TV debates which were always going to give the third party a lift. Then, on the policy front, the recession and the impact on living standards; the expenses scandal which might have hit all parties but was bound to hit us more than the others because it happened on a Labour government watch; Iraq and Afghanistan never far from the headlines … and so on and on and on as only Philip and I can when he is in full flow and I am in grumpy old man mode as we prop up a bar surrounding by celebrating Labour activists and pub regulars (most of whom, by the way – at least those who came up for a chat – were desperate for David Cameron not to be Prime Minister)
Apologies for the long paragraph but it is by way of introduction to my central point which is that despite the odds, despite the lack of resources, Labour fought a terrific campaign. I mean in particular that much diminished team at Party HQ, who worked tirelessly and despite all the ups and downs with extraordinary passion and enthusiasm. I certainly mean the politicians who were based at Victoria Street. Even during the campaign, there was a bit of briefing against them going on – it always happens if you’re behind, alas, and often happens if you’re in front – but they kept going, and kept the show on the road. I mean the brilliant team that made our election broadcasts which were way ahead of anything the other parties did. I mean the press office and the new media team, again outspent on every front by the Tories, but always more than holding their own. I mean our impoverished and shrunken regional offices.
I mean above all the foot soldiers of the party. I know a lot of Labour parties from the fundraising work I do. And I can always tell where there is good local party organisation with committed and energetic troops. And I could see it in some of the results as they came through on Friday morning.
Which is why, whatever the outcome of the current talks between the parties on who forms the next government, everyone involved in the campaign should be very proud that we stopped something that seemed an inevitability one year ago, when the Tories were 23 points ahead and looking at a three-figure majority, or a few weeks ago when virtually every commentator in the land was saying that David Cameron would be PM on May 7, or a couple of weeks ago when we were third in the polls.
Cameron may yet become Prime Minister. But even if he does, he will do so in circumstances which mean that the excesses of his right-wing ideological party will be curbed. And at the next election, whenever it comes, Labour will be in a very good position to fight it.
And a lot of that is down to the people in the pub last night, and people like them, young and old, all around Britain. Many will be feeling deflated and disappointed that we didn’t win a fourth successive election, something only two parties have done in 200 years. But they should feel very proud that we stopped the Tories winning, and proud too that, thanks in part to the changes of the last 13 years, we live in a progressive not a Conservative country.
* Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labourhttp://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.