EXACTLY a quarter of a century ago today, I was campaigning in my constituency in north Sheffield, following 18 years of my party languishing in opposition.
And 25 years tomorrow, I entered the Department for Education and Employment as Secretary of State.
Tory backbenchers have the power to seal the PM’s fate before the next election if they sense his magic is wearing off[/caption]
Those were heady days as Tony Blair appeared outside the Festival Hall in London declaring: “A new dawn has broken, has it not?”
For the students I tutor today, those early years are ancient history.
But next week they will get a clue as to whether history is about to repeat itself.
Britain goes to the polls on Thursday, when 6,800 council seats are up for grabs.
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It will give the first indication as to whether Boris Johnson can defy political gravity and lead the Tories to another General Election victory.
Many good councillors might lose their seats over national issues – that is a personal tragedy for them.
But we are barely two years from the next election and it is a chance for voters to express how they feel about their present political leaders.
John Major was in a similar position to Boris Johnson two years before that historic 1997 Labour landslide.
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The Tories had been in power for 16 years and his government was engulfed by sleaze.
The public gave their verdict with a town halls massacre which cost 2,000 Conservative councillors their seats, while Labour won 48 per cent of the vote, a record high for the party in local elections.
On Thursday, voters will undoubtedly voice their opinions on 12 years of Tory rule – not to mention the Partygate row – and give the clearest signal over whether they might be prepared to give Johnson a second term.
Nobody will be more eager to see the voting patterns than Tory backbenchers who have the power to seal the Prime Minister’s fate before the next election if they sense the Bojo magic is wearing off.
The bigger the losses on Thursday, the more his position will come under threat from his own MPs.
The cost-of-living crisis, the Chancellor’s family tax affairs and fallout from Downing Street lockdown parties have given Labour at least a sense that there is all to play for.
Last time Labour came to power it was challenging a government on its knees.
And what are we faced with today? Cabinet ministers issued with fixed-penalty notices, a backbencher watching porn in the Commons.
Without pretending that this is some form of referendum on Boris Johnson’s government, the outcome of Thursday’s vote will be significant.
Not least, because Conservative MPs will be assessing whether this is the moment that they should eject Boris Johnson.
Many will continue to argue that they should wait for the final outcome of the Metropolitan Police’s Partygate investigation, and the long-awaited report from senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Others will test the water in their constituency to see just how deep the disillusionment goes.
For what it’s worth, I believe they will not act.
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Uncertainty about who would take Boris Johnson’s place, and how much better they would perform, will stay the hand of many.
In the light of Thursday’s result, they will simply ask themselves: Has his election-winning magic finally worn off?
- Lord Blunkett was Labour MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough from 1987 to 2015 and held three senior Cabinet posts as Home Secretary, Education Secretary and Work and Pensions Secretary.