How the Labour Party used History to win in 1997

25 years on from the landslide, a University of Warwick Undergraduate Research Support Scheme project supervised by Dr Simon Peplow and conducted by Will Barber Taylor has now been officially launched.

On behalf of Will Barber Taylor

The aim of the project was and is to explore the extent to which history influenced the Labour Party’s successful general election campaign of 1997.

The project has since grown in size and scope and will continue to work with and be influenced by Will’s podcast series Not A Day For Soundbites, a podcast series about iconic speeches from the history of the Labour Party.

The episode focussing on Blair’s 1996 Labour Party Conference speech was made as part of the History, 1997 and All That project and as well as focussing on the speeches other qualities it especially looks at the use of history in it.

Below is an excerpt from Will’s introduction to the project:

When I started this project, I was determined that it would combine analysis of both primary sources and works written by historians on the 1997 election and how Labour’s campaign was influenced/ignored history, depending on the historian’s interpretation. Whilst primary sources that were written at the time are incredibly useful, I sometimes feel as if the reflective oral interview is overlooked.

Many will point out that interviews conducted years after the fact may not be entirely reliable in terms of either the actions of individuals or the actual events themselves as people will, naturally, not remember events from twenty-five years ago with the same clarity as they would something that happened last year or yesterday. And yet reflective interviews also give an opportunity to capture a moment of time, history in action if you will. For this collection is not only about the part but it is also an opportunity to record the past.

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The 1997 UK General Election is one which is moving with the passage of time from an event that can be considered contemporary or even recent into the same kind of mythologised past that the 1945, 1966 and 1979 elections have now moved in to. Yet the work to record the Blair years and the 97 elections as history is only just starting.

Most works published deal with them as either current political events or recent bookends to other historical events, not historical events in themselves. This is of course starting to change now. 2022 marks twenty-five years since the 97 election was fought. A quarter of a century is a long time and one in which we can begin to see the move from events being considered present to historic. What these interviews will hopefully serve as is not simply a means of hearing about the 1997 election and how it changed Britain and the influence of the past on Labour’s campaign but also as a means of highlighting a moment in history when the New Labour years finally began to enter the historical recorded and be analysed as history rather than as a part of the current events landscape.

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I hope that these interviews prove to be useful and help to illustrate how the 1997 election was truly a momentous turning point in British politics. The project aims to continue throughout 2022 and beyond, building on the initial set of transcript interviews to include even more interviews with politicians and historians which will serve as a useful snapshot not only of how politics influenced the 1997 Election Campaign but also the changing face of politics in the 2020s.

For anyone who would like to follow the development of the project you can do so via the Twitter account @LabHistory1997.

You can access all the published transcripts here

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