There's loads of love for everyone in Blair's new Britain

Listen to the telephone call between two blue-rinsed ladies in the shires. Not their chat about the garden, or the church fete, or their giggling about Portillo. No, it's the goodbye that has you doing a double-take: "Love ya lots," they chirrup, before hanging up.

Love ya lots - and to someone who's neither relative nor lover. Until only recently it would have been unthinkable, in Middle England, to deviate from the traditional farewells - "goodbye" or "cheerio"; at a pinch, a "God bless" might have strained past the stiff upper lip. Conversations were carefully pruned of messy sentiment, exchanges scrupulously weeded of emotion. Anything of that nature would have been frowned upon as the kind of dreadful affectation worthy of an American.

Yet the high-octane sensibility of the Yanks finds its British equivalent in the luvvies, that bohemian confraternity of thespians, authors and broadcasters who rarely venture out of London. The luvvies go in for two kisses on the cheek and bear-hugs, and their conversations ooze with "darling", "pet" and "love ya" - the kind of effusions that pass unnoticed at a cocktail party in New York or a barbecue in New Mexico but are calculated to make the golfers in Milton Keynes positively cringe.

Under the Conservatives, the luvvies were seen and heard but not taken into account. For they were, almost without exception, anti-establishment rebels who voted Labour, marched for the miners, protested against arms manufacturing. Both Thatcher and Major gave them a wide berth - and little funding - and relegated these dangerous eccentrics to the fringe.

Tony's triumphal entrance on the British (and world) stage changed all that. Loyal luvvies who'd paid lip service to - and dug into their pockets for (though perhaps not quite as deeply as Lord Levy's donors did) - the Labour Party suddenly found themselves applauded. The likes of Melvyn Bragg and Fiona Shaw, Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack were dragged centre stage and into the limelight. And with them, their lingo. For a liberal dose of sentimental effusions is very much in tune with the new touchy-feely Britain, where "love ya" and "loads of love" are interpreted as a welcome sign of affection, not affectation. This is inclusive language that hugs to its bosom every member of our inclusive society: whether long-term friend or five minutes' acquaintance, be addressed in luvvy terms and you'll think yourself instantly accepted into an intimate inner circle.

Luvvy lingo voices the new mood of camaraderie whereby new Labourites link arms and set about building the glorious new Project. It promotes and preserves the feel-good factor that Blair's warm tones and diction strive to preserve - but so many other issues threaten to dim.

Above all, though, luvvy lingo is new Labour lingo because it serves as a great leveller. The blue-rinsed ladies and ruddy-complexioned men of middle-class Britain chose a vocabulary of non-committal terms that engaged no one; their language, like the fences around their gardens, kept others at arm's length. It was all very well for the upper classes to trill "dahhhling" as they swanned about grand drawing rooms and twitter "pet" across receptions: they could afford verbal intimacy, for they knew themselves inaccessible, enthroned in the privileged status that was their inheritance. The middle classes, less secure, opted instead for language that maintained the kind of distance that bolsters hierarchy and supports a class system.

No more. The language of luvvies is taking root in Middle England, pointing to a growing indifference to class and a new-found (or post-Diana) sympathy for emotional display. Slowly but surely, the citizens of Basildon and the inhabitants of Essex are dropping their reserve and indulging in a bit of "love ya lots".

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