During my lunch break on May 2 1997, I walked from my office in Mayfair across Green Park to watch Tony Blair being driven into Buckingham Palace and out again a few minutes later as the new Prime Minister. Behind his Jaguar was a Range Rover bearing the triumphant figure of Alastair Campbell, his press secretary. As the curtain came down on the New Labour era last month, Campbell was again in evidence in Downing Street, still attempting to put a positive spin on affairs.
The technology having improved since 1997, I watched Gordon Brown's resignation speech on the internet at my desk in Marylebone before heading home. As I walked to the Tube station, I called someone who might, I thought, be interested in the impending Conservative-Lib Dem coalition — my mother.
"I hope this means we'll get proportional representation at last," she commented. "All my life, my vote has counted for nothing." From this I deduced that she had always voted Liberal or Lib Dem. (I have never dared to ask her about her vote since doing so as a schoolboy and being informed rather severely that in Britain we
enjoyed a secret ballot.)
The year she was born saw two general elections, both resulting in a hung parliament. The main political issues were economic and constitutional: House of Lords reform and extending the franchise to women. It was also the last parliament in which the Liberals, led by Herbert Asquith, had the largest number of MPs. The year was 1910. Although I'm in favour of the present first-past-the-post system, which has served us pretty well, I couldn't help thinking that it might be nice if my mother, at the age of 100, felt enfranchised at last.
Liberal heyday: H. H. Asquith at the Dispatch Box in 1910