Were you still up when Michael Portillo lost his seat? It’s difficult to believe now that the genial presenter of TV railway journey programmes was such a hated and divisive figure on the Tory right, or that his demise came to symbolise a defining moment of change in UK politics.

Shortly after the former Defence Secretary stood, maintaining an excruciating rictus grin, as the returning officer announced his defeat in his Enfield Southgate constituency in the early hours of May 2, 1997, New Labour swept to victory and the rest is history.

Subsequent scenes of a messianic Tony Blair gladhanding with jubilant, flag-waving supporters outside the Royal Festival Hall at daybreak on the morning after the election, epitomised the mood of excitement and optimism that swept the nation.

It was a beautiful sunny, spring day and there was a powerful sense of collective purpose and regeneration, after 18 years of Conservative hegemony;  perhaps the closest we could ever come in this country to a spirit of revolution.

I was a young reporter on The Herald at the time and I still have the news-stand banner from the day, declaring “Scotland: A Tory-free zone”.

Of course, like all political stories and careers, it would end in disappointment and disillusionment. A decade later, Blair stood down having never managed to shake the legacy of a disastrous and ill-conceived war in Iraq.

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Today, we stand on the brink of an even more emphatic Labour victory, with a weekend Survation poll suggesting that, if an election were held now, Labour would win 468 seats to the Tories’ 98. That would provide the party with a majority of 286, 107 more than in 1997.

Now, as then, the backdrop is an era of prolonged Conservative rule, culminating in a period of stagnation and fatigue, presided over by a weak, discredited and unpopular prime minister. So why is there no similar mood of positivity and anticipation? Why, despite the governing party achieving some of its lowest-ever poll ratings, is there still such a lack of conviction that the alternative will be any better?

Despite near record numbers of people saying they will vote Labour at the forthcoming General Election, enthusiasm for Sir Keir Starmer, is more muted. According to YouGov’s monthly tracker, almost half of voters, 48%, think he is doing badly as Labour leader, compared with just 35% who think he is doing well.

In Scotland, the Survation poll suggests the SNP would retain 41 of the 47 seats it currently holds at Westminster, indicating that voters here remain unimpressed with Labour.

In 1997, there was a UK-wide mood of collective effort to back the only party capable of unseating the Tories. Today, it seems, more Scottish voters would rather stick with the embattled Nationalists under Humza Yousaf.

Perhaps, if the gap between Labour and the Conservatives was tighter, voters north of the Border would be more inclined to vote tactically, but it all adds to a sense of scepticism that, under Labour, things will be much better. And that is no bad thing.

Blair and Gordon Brown were never going to be able to satisfy exultant demands for improvements in people’s lives after 1997, not least because both had agreed, like Starmer and his colleagues today, that they would stick to Tory spending plans, at least in the first term of a New Labour government.

While there were significant changes to the look and feel of Britain during those years, through the introduction of devolution, the national minimum wage, trade union reforms, the Northern Ireland peace process and the expansion of higher education, they were all policies that took time to bed-in, and for their benefits to be felt.

It is to the discredit of the architects of New Labour that they allowed public expectations to soar, unchecked, a trap that Starmer appears wary of falling into.

The reality is that we don’t do revolutions, or even radical change, in this country, and the Labour leader knows that his best hope of being in a position to make genuine improvements to people’s lives is to under-promise and overdeliver.

He is fortunate that he finds himself on the threshold of power at this stage in the electoral cycle, when he appears to be benefiting more from disillusionment with he other lot than from his own popularity.

The Herald: There was a widespread feeling of jubilation when Tony Blair swept to power in 1997There was a widespread feeling of jubilation when Tony Blair swept to power in 1997 (Image: PA)

At any other time, having the governing party stealing one of your most eye-catching economic policies - when the Chancellor announced the ending tax breaks for non-doms in his recent budget - so close to an election, could have been catastrophic, but Starmer appears to have surfed that particular wave unscathed. Behind the headline promises, there is some red meat in the five missions that will form the backbone of Labour’s manifesto that, over time, Starmer believes will distinguish his leadership in a positive way. His pledge to get the UK’s growth rate to the highest sustained level in the G7 may be ambiguous, but there is scope for improvement.

The UK’s output per worker is below all the other G7 countries, except Japan, and output per hour worked is lower than in France, Germany and the US. Transforming growth performance is likely to take time and one term in office does not give the Labour leader long.

A zero-carbon electricity system by 2030, five years before the Government’s aim, is the most clearly defined of Labour’s targets. The party has already made a £28 billion-per-year climate investment pledge, so the challenge now will be to outline policies that articulate how the money will be spent.

On health, Starmer’s focus is on NHS reform and investment in research and development, with the aim of improving preventative health measures and addressing health inequalities.

All of these are worthy objectives, though the party needs to provide more detail on what each step will involve. On crime, his pledges include “reforming the police and justice system, to prevent crime, tackle violence against women, and stop criminals getting away without punishment”.

Unless he addresses system-wide problems, Labour risks being accused of applying the same “sticking plaster” solutions for which they criticise the current government.

The forthcoming General Election promises several potential Portillo moments, according to the Survation survey, which suggests Grant Schapps, James Cleverly, Suella Braverman and Pritti Patel could all lose their seats. History has taught us that the true test of genuine change will come the morning after.

Carlos Alba ran the media campaign for Ken MacIntosh’s bid to become Scottish Labour leader against Kezia Dugdale