Three days to polling and the weather forecast predicts sunshine on Thursday. This should encourage a high turnout. The student voters in Edgbaston are mainly first-years in halls of residence. Traditionally they are disinclined to exert too much effort in exercising their democratic right. Hope that our regular "street stall" at the students' guild generates some enthusiasm. Student top-up fees and the proposed rent rises are the big issues. Labour is unequivocally opposed to top-up fees. My Tory opponent is convinced they are unnecessary. He thinks it is all a question of good housekeeping. I sometimes wonder which planet some of the Conservatives live on. They deny student poverty, claim the student loans system is working and keep repeating that Britain is booming. Few people can relate their everyday life to what they are being told by the Conservatives. To my surprise, one student quizzes me about NESTA, the National Endowment for Science and the Arts. He wants to know how to apply. This independent charity will encourage successful people in the arts and sciences to donate part of the proceeds of their talent to an endowment fund which will foster new talent. It was announced by Tony Blair the previous week. I tell him that we need a Labour government first!
The intention was that the three candidates from the main parties would share a platform to answer questions from sixth-formers. The Liberal Democrat sends his agent instead, as he is "with Paddy in Hereford". Education, education, education - our priorities for a new Labour government. Raising standards for every child in every school. Governing Britain for the many and not the few and above all, a government which looks forward and not back. The students' questions are imaginative. Labour's proposals for a crash programme to make sure that all our teachers have the skills and competence they need to take advantage of information technology in the classroom are welcome. I just hope that we succeed in getting more of the under-25s to vote at this general election.
Just one more day to go. Our canvass returns show a solid lead. With Margaret Beckett I visit the cancer unit at the Queen Elizabeth hospital to launch Labour's breast cancer programme. There is a growing recognition that the delivery of cancer services in the United Kingdom needs to be significantly improved in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life. The professor of clinical oncology welcomes Labour's pledge to target cancer services for improvement and specifically breast cancer services. Reducing the time women wait to see a breast specialist, creating a one-stop service at breast clinics so that all tests can be done on the same day, and ending unnecessary waits for cancer surgery will make a real difference to thousands of women and will save lives.
Polling day is long and exhausting. There is excitement in the air and a feeling that Britain deserves better. For six and a half weeks we talked to thousands of people. Our five main pledges on education, health, crime, tax and tackling unemployment were welcomed. Now it is over to the 70,000 voters in the constitutency to decide. The returning officer predicts an early declaration, around midnight. Edgbaston becomes the first Labour gain of the night. There is a real sense of elation and relief. A seat first held by the Liberals and since 1922 by the Conservatives returns its first Labour MP with a majority of some 4,800 votes.
By 4am the scale of the Tory defeat is apparent. Excitement is difficult to contain. A new Labour government that can rebuild Britain as one nation. There is so much to be done. We will not get Britain back on its feet next week or the week after. But we will start today. Making the changes Britain needs. Steadily improving our standard of living, the quality of our public services and Britain's standing in the world. I am convinced that we will look back on May 1, 1997 as the day education became Britain's main priority, as the day we started a real attack on unemployment and as the day the NHS was saved. And we will also remember May 1 as the birth of a new era in British politics, when the people elected a government that honoured its promises. We have a responsibility to rebuild trust between the public and politicians.
We hand out red balloons on Harborne High Street and thank everyone for their support. The reception is overwhelming. Good wishes, joy and excitement. One man presents me with a red rose. He has never voted Labour before and is proud to have done so this time. He is a headteacher in a large secondary school and he cannot wait for David Blunkett to become the secretary of state for education. Until this election there had only ever been 169 women MPs. In the next Parliament there will be 128, 101 of them Labour members. I am proud to be one of these women - the millennium intake. New Labour will make a difference. I, for one, cannot wait for the Queen's Speech on May 14.
A lecturer in law at Worcester College of Technology, Gisela Stuart last week became the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston.