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How do socialists celebrate? With champagne, of course

May 2, 1997

LONDON (AP) _ Champagne, honeyed ham, brie and espresso _ the bash celebrating Labor’s landslide election victory underscored how much the party has changed since Tony Blair became its leader.

The campaigners who got invitations to the victory bash inside the gleaming halls of the Royal Festival Hall spoke in the clean, fluid tones of the middle class that the Labor leader has made it his mission to reach.

``The whole country sees it as a start of a new era,″ said Virgin empire millionaire Richard Branson. ``I like Tony Blair enormously, he can take the country forward.″

Blair’s publicists had called Branson and asked him to join the fun as soon as they had an inkling a landslide was in the offing. He brought along a gaggle of stewardesses.

Waiters were asked not to crack open the French champagne until 1 a.m., when the first solid results would come in.

But the mood was so certain, that the bubbly _ along with the ham, the cheese and the chicken roasted with wild mushrooms _ came out at midnight, barely two hours after polls had closed.

Once, the Labor party was predominantly working class, and its celebrations were stained with brown ale, its songs drawn from the music hall.

From Thursday night until this morning, as much white wine as beer spilled onto the Royal Festival Hall’s parquet, and the night’s theme song was ``Things are going to get better,″ delivered by teeny bop idol D:Ream.

That jibes with Blair’s striving to push his party up-market. ``This was a vote for the future, not a vote for outdated dogma or ideology,″ Blair said, to cheers.

Some supporters stressed their hope for a return to the caring they felt was lacking with the Conservatives.

``Under the Conservatives, you felt there was no real alternative,″ said Martha Estcourt, who was 6 years old the last time Labor was in power, 18 years ago. ``You felt it didn’t matter if you voted or not.″

Others spoke in the language that Labor’s enemies _ including the working class and the tabloid press _ revile as champagne socialism.

``Now we might shift focus from male-dominated to female-dominated politics,″ said Jenny Lumley, approving of the increase in women members of parliament. ``Women have a more holistic, round approach.″

By morning, cappuccinos and espressos were on order to battle encroaching hangovers.

``The whole country is jubilant,″ said Simply Red’s lead singer Mick Hucknall, twirling the elegant, tiny espresso cup on one finger. ``I don’t know if the Conservative Party even exists.″

Denise Rounds, a campaigner from the nearby working-class neighborhood of Lewisham didn’t get a pass to party inside, so she waited all night to hear Blair address crowds who danced along the Thames embankment.

``Is he coming out this way?″ she asked a reporter. ``He should greet us as well.″

But his no-show didn’t disappoint her. ``I’m overjoyed. I wasn’t sure until now. What happened in 1992 was such a letdown,″ she said, referring to the last parliamentary vote, which Labor narrowly lost.

``I wasn’t going to get my hopes up this time.″

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