I Stayed Up For Portillo
1st May 1997. The election that ended 18 years of Tory rule and ushered in a landslide Labour government under Tony Blair.
I'd spent the day in some obscure backstreets of Croydon, the nearest target marginal seat to where I was living, knocking up voters, delivering 'have you voted?' leaflets and sitting at polling stations taking numbers.
I've done such things many times, but this was different. This was unique. There was a feeling in the air, you could smell the victory. I was wearing a red rosette and knocking people up in a marginal seat, usually this would be a tough grind, but everyone was all smiles, all through the day. I knocked up one elderly supporter asking her if she'd voted. "My husband's just died," she said. I was all apologies and sympathy. "Oh don't worry," she said brightly, "We knew he was near the end so we did a postal vote." Yes, even the dead were voting Labour that day. Labour ended up winning that particular 'marginal seat' with a 20,000 majority.
The buzz for Labour was reflected in the number of volunteers, there were hundreds of us, stamping on each others toes, all giddy with the eek of victory. At one point I was paired with a woman who said she worked with Armando Iannucci. "Really?" I said breathlessly. "I'm a massive fan of The Day Today, what's he like to work with?"
"Actually he's a bit of a cunt," she said. But before I could ask for the detail, I was called away. "Terrence, can you go and walk up and down that cul de sac. Everyone's voted, but we want to be seen looking busy."
I stayed up until 4.00 am watching the election coverage. Miraculously the Tory town I grew up in went to Labour at about 3.30. But it wasn't over, exit polling was indicating that one of the giants of the Tory party was in jeopardy.
At just after 4.00 the TV election coverage went live to Enfield Southgate, Michael Portillo's constituency. Portillo held the seat with a 16,000 majority, the definition of a safe seat, but not any more. The Labour candidate Stephen Twigg won the seat with an 18% swing. The shock result gave rise to the expression "The Portillo moment".
Michael Portillo was the poster boy of the nasty party, at a time when being nasty was still seen as a bad thing. He had spent his every waking minute attacking single mothers and the working poor. The Family Cat (90s indie band) did a song called 'Bring Me The Head of Michael Portillo', which I put on repeat play for half an hour when the result was announced, before finally crashing asleep.
I'd been there, done that, so I got the T shirt. I wore it all the time, briefly, but political T shirts soon age. Michael Portillo eventually became universally loved as that nice man who does travel programmers, and Blair became universally hated as that nasty man who does illegal wars. But I still wear it on suitable occasions, when another wicked witch of the right turns to dust. I dusted it down to wear the day Theresa May resigned, and again when Dominic Cummins got the boot. And it's there in my wardrobe just waiting for Boris to get his comeuppance. Top of the pile, cleaned and ironed, so I can put it on in an instant if I need to.