It was the 1990s. Thatcherism had won in the end, and the ‘old Labour’ policies of the 1970s and 80s were old hat. The economy was up, John Major was out, and politics was groovy again.
Tony Blair was still reeling from his landslide election victory in May 1997 when he, or rather his spin doctor Alastair Campbell, decided to do what was most befitting of the youngest prime minister since 1812: throw a celeb-laden party. This was the era of Britpop after all.
Britain had found its mojo. Blur and Oasis were fighting it out for the accolade of being the world’s coolest band, and the Union Jack had been brought in from the cold by Gerri Halliwell, AKA Ginger Spice, to wrap herself up in. Even British business was getting hip, led by The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick, who was most definitely on the guest list.
The soundtrack for the night was D:Ream’s Things can only get better – the song that had been played endlessly during New Labour’s election campaign, and the lyrics of which Campbell had made sure had been hammered into the minds of the electorate like a Pavlovian response mechanism.
That evening, Tony Blair hit the jackpot when he was snapped chatting happily with Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who later admitted to having snorted cocaine in the toilet. Here was a prime minister that ‘got’ Britain. Perhaps after 18 years of Conservative government, things really had changed.
Only, of course, they hadn’t. Six years later and comfortably into his second term, Blair rode roughshod over public opinion in declaring war on Iraq. Meanwhile, his chancellor, Gordon Brown, who in 1997 had promised an end to boom and bust, couldn’t avoid the economy sliding into the worst financial crisis in decades.
But never mind all that. The ‘Cool Britannia party’, as it became known, was a triumph of spin. So much so, in fact, that David Cameron tried to recapture the magic last year in the run-up to the 2015 general election.
Gary Barlow was a notable absence from the guest list as he had been naughty with his taxes. But the former TakeThat singer need not have felt bad. This time around, most of the A-listers decided to stay away.
Also on this day
On this day in July 1935, the first mass-market paperback books bearing the penguin logo were published. Each book cost sixpence. Read more here.