Stephen Twigg and THAT election

19th March, 2012 12:27 pm

As well as interviewing Chuka Umunna ahead of the budget (which we published this morning), I also recently profiled Stephen Twigg for Total Politics magazine. (It’s one of two different covers for the latest issue – the other being Justine Greening).

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Twigg has always fascinated me, largely because he’s responsible for my first real political memory, watching the results of the 97 election come in as a kid. I asked him about that campaign, and I’ve posted that Section of the interview as an extract below.

Twigg also told me that he wants to see David Miliband (who he calls a “big talent”) back under Ed, and explains his “philosophical disagreement” with some in the party over schools, explaining, “I don’t think it has to be the state that directly provides the schools.”

But for all of that, you’ll need to buy Total Politics tomorrow – available at all good newsagents, and probably some bad ones too. The extract is below.

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Stephen Twigg, and THAT election

For political anoraks of all stripes, Stephen Twigg stands at a pivotal point in British political history. It was 2 May 1997, 3.10am. Were you up for Portillo? Millions still were – celebrating or commiserating – and everyone was shocked. No one more so than the man himself. The image of him looking slightly overwhelmed on the stage at Pickett’s Lock Leisure Centre early that morning. The small ripple of laughter as the returning officer reveals that Michael Portillo’s middle name is Xavier. And then the result: the cheer, the beam growing brighter, Twigg telling the assembled audience that “there is no such thing as a no-go area for the Labour Party”. Portillo’s magnanimous speech. And the knowledge that Labour had emerged from the wilderness – a place with which the Tories were about to become intimately acquainted.

It’s a scene etched on the collective memory of the British body politic, so I didn’t need to watch it again. But I did. Twice. I couldn’t help myself. The topic stalks Twigg wherever he goes. It’s often the first thing that strangers want to talk to him about, but he wears it lightly, and is happy to reminisce when we meet in his anonymous but friendly Westminster office. “I didn’t think it was going to happen,” he confides.

A week beforehand there had been a poll that gave him hope. He recalls: “I remember a friend of mine was working on one of the Sunday morning political shows, and rang me late Saturday night and said, ‘There’s a poll out tomorrow showing that Portillo is four per cent ahead of you’… that put quite a lot of attention on us, so we produced a little leaflet that we got out, eventually, I think, across the whole constituency. It simply reproduced the poll as a bar graph, and stated: ‘In Enfield Southgate if you want to get rid of Portillo only a Labour vote will count’ – a classic Lib Dem squeeze message – and people turned up to help from all over the country. They asked, ‘Where’s your HQ?’ And we had to invent an HQ in my organiser’s front room.”

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