Labor wins in Britain with much smaller majority

[Updated] The BBC, This is London, and the Independent are all reporting that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has won a third term as prime minister, with Labour winning, but with a much smaller majority. According to the Independent,”Tony Blair saw his majority cut sharply today as Labour was hit by a Tory revival and a protest vote over the Iraq war. The party was still heading for a third successive general election victory for the first time in its history, but suffered a string of surprise defeats…. The early results showed that many people who voted Labour in 1997 and 2001 had deserted the party to give Mr Blair a ‘bloody nose’ over the Iraq war, which became the dominant issue in the second half of the election campaign.” Greg Palast explains in an e-mail column, dated 4 May, “The British vote only for their local Member of Parliament. The MPs, in turn, pick the PM. If a carpenter in Nottingham doesn’t like Prime Minister Blair (not all dislike him, some detest him), the only darn thing they can do about it is vote against their local MP, in this case, the lovely Alan Simpson, a Labour Party stalwart who himself would rather kiss a toad than cuddle with Tony. Therefore, the majority of the Queen’s subjects — deathly afraid of the return of Margaret Thatcher’s vampirical Tory spawn — holds their noses, vote for their local Labour MP and pray that an act of God will save their happy isle.” The Los Angeles Times cited a more conservative view, saying “‘There is no alternative (alas),’ reads the cover of the election-week edition of the Economist magazine, over a picture of a smiling, somewhat vacant-looking Blair.”

Palast may be right. According to the Independent, “Defeated Labour candidates were quick to blame Mr Blair’s unpopularity and the war for their demise. Bob Marshall-Andrews, conceding defeat in Medway, Kent, said: ‘It is impossible not to draw the conclusion that the war and the Prime Minister have caused a serious haemorrhage in Labour votes.’ He called for a change of leadership ‘sooner rather than later’.” An article in This is London said Blair’s “vote was cut by five points to a mere 36.3 per cent, the lowest share ever recorded by a winning party. Mr Blair immediately promised he had “listened and learned” from the verdict.” His majority was cut “from 160 to about 66” seats in parliament.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, acknowledged that Labour had suffered a protest vote. He said: “I promise that we will listen and learn so that we can serve our country and our community even better in the years to come.”

Although Mr Blair set to enter the history books, the sharp drop in his majority will raise a question-mark over whether he can remain in Downing Street for anything like the “full term” he wishes to serve before standing down. He will face calls from within the party for an early handover of power to Mr Brown, whose allies believe Labour would have suffered bigger losses if the Chancellor had not played a pivotal role in the campaign.

The Conservative Party picked up some seats as some voters switched from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. According to This is London:

  • Mr Howard’s share of the national vote was a dismal 33.2 per cent – barely improved from the 2001 election. He picked up 36 seats with a paper swing of around 3.3 per cent, although this seemed mainly due to Labour voters switching to the Liberal Democrats.
  • Charles Kennedy had a good night, achieving a 22.6 per cent share mainly at Labour’s expense and gaining around 11 seats. But his gains were massively below expectations, and poor against the Tories.

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