Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Channel 4 and New Labour

The Labour Party in the United Kingdom came to power in 1997 in an election in which I voted for it directly, in Scotland. I was still a teenager.

Its period in power saw pop stars courted in Number 10, iconic additions to the cultural and architectural landscape of the country, including the rebuilding of a power station as Tate Modern and the partial demolition of institutionalised homophobia. Tony Blair bonded with George Bush in the weeks and years after 9/11, thousands of new crimes were added to the statute-book, the concept of the nanny state was talked about more and more, and civil liberties were eroded so much that a photographer cannot walk today down any street in London without fearing the oppressively chilling effect of Labour's Terrorism Act. My passport contains a microchip and antenna which invisibly identifies me wherever I carry it.

And yet. The one time that springs to mind for me, now that the Party's time in Government is over, is a dark evening in March 2003. It was raining, I was out of work, and the United States, assisted so essentially by the United Kingdom with Tony Blair at the helm, was just about to start bombing runs over Iraq because of the oil.

Shock and Awe, we were told to call it, even though it was neither. And I sat there, in this chair, all those years ago, feeling sad and sick and powerless. I had a beer, and lots of cigarettes, and thought of war. Back then, I couldn't have realised that the oil takes on a quite different sheen today. America's own Gulf Coast hates the stuff.

The Channel Four News aired earlier tonight as Gordon Brown stepped down as Prime Minister and Labour leader and removed himself and his Party from Government. An HD camera, fixed to a helicopter, provided dispassionately sharp aerial pictures.

And as the silent motorcade brought Prime Minister Brown into the courtyard of Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to Her Majesty, the well-loved newsman Jon Snow provided a thoughtful commentary:

"Well, if what they say is true and the Queen really does watch Coronation Street, she'll be postponing it tonight!"

The cars stop. A camera in the courtyard records the scene. A shiny black door opens. There is, for a long moment, silence.

"...They say she does."