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BBC News Vote 2001 Vote2001 | Audio Video 
Election Battles 1945-1997
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1997: Blair's landslide

1997: Bell and Hamilton
Neil Hamilton confronts Martin Bell

Watch and listen 1997
BBC Radio examines the results
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John Major ends the “phoney war”
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Neil Hamilton and Martin Bell lock horns in Tatton
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The Lib Dems stage a Punch and Judy show
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The best of election night coverage
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Tony Blair: "We will govern as New Labour"
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What they spent
Lib Dems

Whether you agree with me or disagree with me, like me or loathe me don't bind my hands when I am negotiating on behalf of the British people
John Major looks for the support of his own side on Europe

I believe that this election is winnable
John Major

We ran for office as New Labour, we will govern as New Labour
Tony Blair

There was no reason left not to trust Labour. All the old ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ had gone
Peter Mandelson

John Major left it until the last possible minute before calling the 1997 election, in the hope that the "feel-good factor" that accompanies economic prosperity would turn around Tory fortunes in the polls.

Unluckily for him, it never did.

Left with little alternative, Major hoped a long campaign - six weeks, from 17 March to polling day on 1 May - would expose New Labour's policies to scrutiny and see the party's relatively inexperienced leadership crack under pressure.

But in the face of a professional, super-disciplined and highly cautious campaign by a Labour Party fearful of losing an election it was overwhelmingly expected to win, the Tory strategy had little impact.

Labour had adopted campaigning techniques from the US, including a rapid rebuttal unit designed to ensure a swift and sure response to any Conservative attacks on the party.

The party's campaigners were kept ruthlessly on-message for the duration by fax, bleeper and mobile phone.

Throughout the campaign the Tories experienced nothing but bad news.

The Sun newspaper turned traitor on the party it had energetically championed at the previous four elections, now coming out for New Labour.

Sleaze blew the Tory campaign off course. An MP was revealed to be having an affair with a night-club hostess.

And pressure was put on two MPs - Neil Hamilton and Tim Smith - involved in the cash-for-questions scandal to stand down, keeping the issue alive in the media.

As usual there was much talk of a televised debate between the party leaders. Once again it failed to happen, with both parties blaming each other for the outcome.

As the long weeks passed the Tories failed to land any punches on New Labour. Even the old bogey of Labour's relations with the unions failed to chime with many voters - many of whom had never lived under a Labour government.

But with Tory splits on Europe on painful display throughout the campaign Major's party did much of Labour's work for it.

With hundreds of Tory MPs making it plain that they would never vote for the single currency, John Major was forced to offer them a free vote on the issue - seized on by opponents as yet more evidence of weak leadership.

Tony Blair's only gaffe came when he described the powers of Labour's proposed Scottish Parliament as being akin to "an English parish council" - giving offence to the backers of devolution.

In a workmanlike campaign one of the few memorable episodes came when Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed not to field candidates in Tatton after they had persuaded BBC journalist Martin Bell to stand on a independent ticket against Neil Hamilton.

The Tory MP strongly denied the sleaze allegations against him, and with his formidable wife confronted the war correspondent on Knutsford Heath in full view of the media.

As the battle entered its final days, John Major tried to rally support, saying Labour's plans for devolution would see the end of the UK.

Labour in turn attacked the Tories, claiming they would slap VAT on food and scrap the state pension. And as polling day approached there remained, Tony Blair said, "Just 24 hours to save the NHS".