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Tony Blair wins the general elections in the UK for the third time running

Tony Blair wins the general elections in the UK for the third time running

06/05/2005 - Results

By becoming the second Prime Minister on 5th May and the first from the Labour Party – to win a third consecutive term in office in the general elections – something that Margaret Thatcher managed to do in the 1980's Tony Blair has disproved the British saying that maintains that the Conservatives, who were in power for three quarters of the 20th century, are the "natural rulers" of the UK.

Labour came out ahead in the general election with 35.2% of the vote (- 5.5 points in comparison with the previous election) i.e. 356 seats. Labour lost 47 MP's in comparison with the last general elections that took place on 7th June 2001 but they did maintain their lead of 59 seats over the Conservatives.

This result, that represents one voter in four, makes the Labour Party the weakest elected political party in British history. In 1974, Labour Harold Wilson, who won the general elections with fewer votes than the Conservatives, did however win 37.2% of the vote. With 35.2% Labour has regressed mainly due to the low participation rate which lay at its 1980's and even pre-Second World War level.

The Conservatives, the main opposition party, won 32.3% of the vote i.e. a slight improvement of 0.6 points in comparison with the general elections on 7th June 2001 winning 197 seats in the Chamber of Commons (+ 33). It did however regress in numbers of votes dropping to its lowest level since 1924, except for the collapse in 2001. "The apparent progress made by the Conservatives in terms of seats is poor cover for a total stagnation in terms of votes," emphasised Michael Bruter, researcher at the London School of Economics (LSE); he added, "it is a failure on the part of the Tories who had everything to succeed with an erosion of Labour power after eight years in office and the press very much against Prime Minister Tony Blair." Indeed, in spite of the progress they made, the Conservatives are far from escaping the slump they have been in for the last ten years and are still struggling to convince the British that they represent a credible alternative to the policies undertaken by Labour.

The Liberal Democrats are the only ones to have made any real progress in terms of votes and seats. With 22% of the vote (+ 3.7 points) and 72 seats (+ 11), they achieved their "best result in generations" according to their leader Charles Kennedy. They increased their establishment in new towns and regions in the UK. "The real lesson to be drawn from these elections is that the day the tide really goes out on Labour people will seek a national, credible alternative and I think that is what we are," he declared when the results were announced. The Liberal Democrats owe most of their success to their opposition of military intervention in Iraq. It appears that Labour voters – who wanted to punish Labour whilst ensuring they did not run the risk of a Conservative victory – turned to the country's third political party. In a MORI opinion poll one third of former Labour voters – who chose to vote for the Liberal Democrats on 5th May (33%) – said that the war in Iraq had been a decisive factor in the way they had voted.

The Greens failed in their objective of winning Brighton Pavilion where their candidate Keith Taylor came third with 22% of the vote, i.e. thirteen points more than during the general elections in 2001. In Lewisham Deptford, another constituency that the Greens had been aiming for, they won 11.5% of the vote. The Greens won 1.07% of the vote nationally (versus 0.7% in 2001) and achieved their best score ever in Scotland.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) also failed to win the constituency of Totnes (Devon) where its leader, former Conservative MP, Roger Knapman, only won 7.74% of the vote. Likewise in Thanet, Kent MEP, Nigel Farage won 5.04% of the vote i.e. much less than the 20% on which he had been counting.

Finally the extreme rightwing party, the British National Party only made slight progress during these general elections winning 0.74% of the vote nationally, versus 0.55% in 2001. Its leader, Nick Griffin, only won 9.16% of the vote in the constituency of Keighley (West Yorkshire). It was in Barking, East London that the party achieved its best result: Richard Barnbrook who faced amongst others, the Minister for Childhood, Margaret Hodge, won 16.89% of the vote.

For their part the nationalist parties achieved varied results. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has lost around 50,000 votes in four years but did however gain one seat in comparison with the last election (six MP's) and this in spite of the reduction from 72 to 59 constituencies in Scotland. The party won 18% of the vote coming third after the Labour Party (40%) and the Liberal Democrats (22%). With 12.55% of the vote in Wales, Plaid Cymru, however recorded a decrease in votes (- 30,000) and seats (three, i.e. one less). The party failed to achieve its objective of winning the constituency of Ynis Mon.

In Northern Ireland the moderate parties were beaten, both on the Protestant and Catholic sides, by the extremist parties. Ian Paisley's Democratic Ulster Party (DUP), the anti-Catholic opposition leader, whose number of MP's rose from five to nine, is the major winner in this election. Gerry Adams's Sinn Fein (SF) won five seats (+ 1), i.e. the best result ever won in Northern Ireland by a Catholic Party. True to tradition Sinn Fein MP's refuse to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth and will not sit in the Chamber of Commons. The moderates in the Social Democrat and Labour Party (SDLP) maintained their three MP's including the one in the constituency of Belfast South, Protestant territory, in spite of a loss of around 5% of the vote over four years. Finally the moderates in the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) suffered an historic defeat losing five of their seats and maintaining only one. Their leader David Trimble was beaten in his constituency of Upper Bann by David Simpson (DUP).

Sixty year old David Trimble, who signed the Belfast Peace Agreements on 10th April 1998 and was joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize the same year (with John Hume, leader of the Social Democrat and Labour Party), has led the Ulster Unionist Party for the last ten years; this party has dominated Northern Irish politics since the division of the island in 1921. Between 1999 and 2002 he was Prime Minister of the Ulster government where he shared power with the Catholics. On 7th May David Trimble announced that he would withdraw from political life: "I am happy to have had the privilege of leading what I believe to be the best and the most democratic parties in Ulster," he declared.

The participation rate was higher in comparison with the extremely low numbers recorded during the last general elections on 7th June 2001, (+ 1.9 points) settling at 61.3%. It was higher in the South (65.45%) than the North (57.15%) and lower than average in Scotland, 60.6% versus 62.4% in Wales. More than six inhabitants from Northern Ireland in ten turned out to ballot (62.5%), i.e. 5.5 points less than during the last general election. Six of the twenty six millions voters chose to vote by post.

The Labour Party lost eleven seats in London. It won 38.9% of the vote in the capital i.e. 8.4 points less than during the previous election and 41 seats. Former Labour MP George Galloway, for Respect, a party that he founded himself in 2004 beat Labour candidate, Oona King by some 800 votes in the constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow, an area where half of the population originates from Bangladesh. Labour's decline is mainly to the advantage of the Conservatives who gained 8 seats and won 31.77% of the vote in the capital i.e. 1.41 points more than on 7th June 2001. The 21 seats won by the Conservatives lie mostly in the wealthy areas of London (Wimbledon, Hammersmith, Putney) but also in more peripheral areas such as Croydon Central, Enfield Southgate and Ilford North. Like elsewhere in the country the Liberal Democrats made the greatest progress winning 22.02% of the vote (+ 4.42 points). However this rise was not reflected in a rise in the number of seats due to the British political system that mostly favours the two leading parties. In the capital the participation rate rose to 58.2% which was higher than that recorded on 7th June 2001 but less than the national average (- 3.1 points).

"It is an honour and a privilege to have been elected for a third term in office as Prime Minister and I am aware of this," declared Tony Blair. Although the British have shown they still have confidence in their Prime Minister they did not vote for him however. We should remember than when Margaret Thatcher was elected for a third term she won a majority of 100 seats in the Chamber of Commons. Tony Blair maintains that he has understood the message. "It appears that people wanted the return of a Labour government but with a smaller majority. We should listen to them and provide a sensible answer, with wisdom and in a responsible manner," he added. The Prime Minister also promised to establish a "radical legislative programme" and declared that he wanted to "focus mainly on the maintenance of a strong economy." "I have listened and I shall concentrate without fail on British priorities," he maintained. "I know that Iraq divided the country but I hope that we shall be able to come together again and look to the future," declared Tony Blair after the announcement of his re-election in his constituency of Sedgefield in the North East. In this constituency Reg Keys, whose son Thomas died in Iraq in June 2003 just a few days before his 21st birthday, won 10% of the vote.

As for the Conservatives Michael Howard admitted defeat after congratulating Tony Blair; he did believe however that his party had taken a "significant step" in regaining power. "I believe the time has come for Tony Blair to act on subjects that are really important to people in this country," he maintained. The Conservative leader announced that he intended to resign as soon as his party had appointed a new leader and said how sorry he was that he had not "improved Tory results, ‘in spite of his efforts'". Since 2001 the appointment of the Conservative leader has taken place in two stages: party representatives choose two candidates who are then selected by party members.

The day after the election Tony Blair appointed his new government taking back a majority of the most important personalities. Hence Gordon Brown maintains his position as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the name given to the Economy and Finance Minister in the UK. Jack Straw remains at the Foreign Office, Charles Clarke in the Home Office, Alistair Darling with Transport and Ruth Kelly in Education.

Some changes should however be taken note of such as the return of David Blunkett to Employment and Pensions. The latter had been obliged to relinquish his position as Home Minister in December 2004 after he was accused of abuse of power in a private affair and after the scandal caused by his affair with Kimberly Quinn, director of the conservative weekly The Spectator. John Reid, former Health Minister replaces Geoff Hoon in Defence who in turn has been appointed Chief Whip; Douglas Alexander replaces Denis MacShane in European Affairs. In addition to this three Secretaries of State, beaten during the elections could not return to government..

The greatest absentee from the electoral campaign was Europe but this should rapidly become the main focus of public debate, purely because the UK is to take up the presidency of the European Union for six months on 1st July. In addition to this the campaign for the referendum for the European Constitution planned for the first half of 2006, is due to start in September. The most recent opinion polls reveal that if the vote took place today 60% of the British would say "no" to the European text. It is highly probable that Tony Blair will also announce an increase in taxes, vital to fund the continued modernisation of the public services.

Patrick Dunleavy, political expert at the London School of Economics believes, "that people are happy with Labour but unhappy with Tony Blair because of Iraq." This is why a number of analysts believe that the Prime Minister, who promised to go to the end of his new term in office might,– and especially if the no vote wins in the ratification of the Europe Constitution next year, hand over to his heir, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown quicker than planned.

Although he equalled Margaret Thatcher on 5th May Tony Blair still has not beaten the other record held by the Iron Lady – that of longevity in the position of Prime Minister (eleven years, six months, and twenty six days from 1979 to 1990). To do better Tony Blair will have to stay at 10 Downing Street until 26th November 2008.

For the time being Tony Blair, who celebrated his 52nd birthday the day after the elections, can savour his third electoral victory, which although falling short of the records of the previous two, is still as clear. Although the British did not appreciate the dispatch of troops to Iraq they did however demonstrate their confidence in the team that has been in place for the last eight years in order to maintain the country's economic and social health.

General Election Results UK – 5th May 2005 *

Participation rate: 61.3%

Source: BBC

*: The results include 645 out of 646 constituencies, the death of a candidate led to the postponement of the election in one of the constituencies.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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