Were You Still up For Portillo? Paperback – 2 Oct 1997
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The 1997 election not only produced a historic result, it also generated enough incident to fill five nights of television rather than one. This text tracks the drama from the close of the polls at 10.00pm to the last recount the next day, stopping at Edgbaston and Edinburgh, Basildon and Brighton, Tatton and Torbay, Harrogate, Chelsea, Winchester and many more. It recaptures the mood of the night, observing the breaking of Portillo, Rifkind, Lamont and Mellor, the making of Twigg, Stuart, Follett and Bradshaw and the marathon on-screen labours of Snow, Brunson, Paxman and the Dimblebys.
About the Author
Until the beginning of this year Brian Cathcart was deputy editor of the Independent on Sunday. He has written one book (Test of Greatness:Britain's Struggle for the Atom Bomb,John Murray,1994) and has a 20000-word piece on the Stephen Lawrence caseappearing in a forthcoming issue of GRANTA.
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Actually, it's two stories of it, as it records both the historic events themselves - the victories and defeats, the politicians' speeches, the 'new dawn breaking' as Blair puts it - and also the coverage of those events, especially on the TV. That double narrative forms a good framework within which to flit in and out of specific declarations, analyse the results and their significance and provide background to the people involved.
Cathcart writes incisively and with good humour, not underplaying the importance of what's going on but not being overly reverential either - election nights always provide the bizarre and comical alongside the historic and nation-changing. He captures it all with equal relish. There's also an energy driving through the book as the action pulsates around the country and the emotions of ecstatic triumph and resigned horror sweep the various parties.
Nowhere was that more true than at the defining moment of the night and the one that indirectly gave the book its title: in Enfield Southgate, where Michael Portillo, then seen by many - not least himself - as a future Tory leader, lost his supposedly safe seat on a massive swing. On a night of shocks, this was the biggest of the lot. At gone 3am, it was also just about the last one too.
In a way, it's quite a lightweight book; it's certainly very readable. There's not the deep analysis or background information that you'd get in a Kavanagh or Butler guide but that shouldn't distract from the amount of information there is: it's a properly researched book filled through with stats. That, however, is a secondary purpose. The main one is a record of the night itself and it's one it fulfils very well.
I'd been watching an 1960's comedy film called 'Watch Your Stern' starring Kenneth Connor when the polls closed and I switched over to Sky News just after eleven. Brian Cathcart brilliantly recaptures the tension and drama of those wonderful hours; without bias, he analyses the reasons for the Tory rout and reaches the inevitable conclusion - they had it coming.
Particularly fascinating are the accounts of what was going on over at the B.B.C. and I.T.V. while my attention was fixed elsewhere. By the time I crawled up to bed at 4 a.m., John Major had conceded defeat and B.B.C.-2 appropriately put on a classic Woody Allen film - 'Take The Money & Run'!
Witty, informative, occasionally cheeky but never unkind, this is a great book even if you're not interested in politics. Smashing pictures too!
The cover of the book sums up the essence of the night .....a photograph capturing the moment when Stephen Twigg did the impossible and snatched Enfield from the once mighty Michael Portillo. The boyish,impish grin contrasting with the look of the utter disbelief of his opponent.
Read this book if you want to recapture the highs and lows of one of Britain's most historic policitcal landslides.