I joined the Labour Party in 1984, and for the next decade, the experience was not a happy one. I approached every electoral test unjustifiably optimistic, only to feel a sickening emptiness in the pit of my stomach as the results started to filter through. In by-elections, regional, district and general elections, I prayed – literally prayed – that this time Labour would make the breakthrough. And time after time I had to pick myself up, dust myself down and start all over again.
There are very many Labour Party members today who don’t share that experience, who joined the party after Tony became leader, and who have never really had to experience the awful desperation of defeat at the hands of the Tory Party.
Which is why so many in the party have been, until recently, complacent. They believed the myth that the Tory party could never recover after the rout of 1997. Now, when it’s clear that that’s exactly what’s happened, they may be tempted towards the opposite extreme: panic.
Don’t let that happen. What we’re seeing s not the end of the world, but a return to business as usual, where Labour is once again the underdog of British politics, and where, for the first time in 15 years (but certainly not the first time in our history), we have to make the case for our party instead of sitting back and reaping the electoral benefits of a fractured and divided Tory Party.
Real politics is difficult. It’s hard work and it can be discouraging. Those whose first experience of national politics was 1997 could be forgiven for forgetting that.
The results of May 1 were a wake-up call, not a death certificate. The electoral arithmetic in Britain still makes it incredibly difficult for the Tories to win a general election outright. They still aren’t well represented outside of their heartlands.
What would win it for Cameron would be if party members started swallowing the media myth of Tory inevitability. Nothing is inevitable. The prize of a fourth term for Labour is something that’s worth fighting for. The media are bored with us, and they won’t do us any favours. And we will have to work harder than we have ever worked before to achieve victory. But it will be worth it.
And if we succeed, if we can bounce back after the last few months, David Cameron will become just another footnote in the political history of our nation, filed alongside William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard.
And that would be worth fighting for.