The 1997 general election was a unique moment in Britain’s modern democratic history and its consequences continue to shape Britain in 2017.
Now, a new exhibition and a series of related events, including a public conference, will explore this vital but controversial episode.
‘A New Dawn’ is the result of a collaboration between Professor Steven Fielding from the School of Politics and International Relations at The University of Nottingham, and the People’s History Museum in Manchester. The exhibition opens on Saturday 25 March and will run until 4 June.
Associated with the exhibition, @newdawn1997 is recreating the campaign on a day-by-day basis on Twitter.
A ‘one-state party’
Following the 1997 election, a rebranded ‘New’ Labour Party ended 18 years of Conservative government. With a 179 seat majority in the House of Commons, the election laid the foundations for an unprecedented 13 years in office for the party.
Yet in 1992 experts said Britain had become a one-party state: after losing four elections in a row, Labour was finished as a party of power. Within five years however, Tony Blair proved them wrong and led the party to office on the back of one of its biggest ever victories.
Such was the optimism of the time, when Blair asked on the morning of 2 May 1997 when the scale of Labour’s victory was fully apparent, ‘A new dawn has broken, has it not?’, many believed a New Britain was really about to be built.
Blair claimed this would be a Britain based on fairness but also economic efficiency, one fully consistent with Labour’s ideals. Critics however argued that the price of this reversal of electoral fortunes was Blair’s abandonment of the party’s basic tenets, such as Clause Four of its constitution. He had, they claimed, transformed Labour into a pale echo of the Conservatives.
The ‘most dramatic’ election in British history
‘A New Dawn’ will explore this moment in Britain’s democratic history, helping visitors reflect on the issues it raises and explore an election that feels much further away than just two decades in the past.
Professor Fielding said: “The 1997 general election was one of the most dramatic in British history. And the government elected on 1 May twenty years ago remains as controversial as ever.
“It is therefore important to cut through the hype and misconceptions of left and right to assess how and why such a remarkable election happened - and soberly ask what were its consequences?”
Professor Fielding will be running a series of events during the conference exploring this vital but controversial moment in Britain’s democratic history:
For more information, visit the People’s History Museum website.
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