Blair’s win tainted by net seat loss

After a fiercely contested campaign, one day of voting and one long night of results, Tony Blair has won an historic third term for Labour. This, however, has come at the cost of a dramatically reduced majority and some poor individual results.

Although the Conservative Party has welcomed its strong gains as a sign of progress, Michael Howard has stepped down citing his age, and the need for a new Conservative leader to fight the next election.

The Labour Party lost seats both to the Conservatives in London and parts of the South East, and the Liberal Democrats, predominantly on the back of Iraq, in larger urban areas.

In Scotland Labour lost seats to the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives, who, in taking Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweedale from Labour, gained their first seat in Scotland since 1997. In Wales, the Lib Dems and Tories made gains, but Plaid Cymru failed to take its top target seat and lost elsewhere.

The Conservatives have secured roughly 200 seats in what will be seen as a step on the road to recovery for the Party. The Liberal Democrats will be returning to Parliament with their largest number of MPs since 1929.

Commenting on the result Mr. Blair said it was clear that “the British people wanted to return a Labour government but with a reduced majority”.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the Iraq effects and pledged to respond “sensibly and wisely” to the result. In an unusual concession speech Michael Howard congratulated Mr. Blair and told him that he will support him if he delivers on his promises. Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said voters had created a new era of three party politics.

The results give Labour 356 seats, the Conservatives 197, and the Lib Dems 62. With one constituency yet to declare – the vote was delayed for a week on the death of a candidate – the final result is predicted to give Labour a 66 seat majority, down from 165.

Labour’s winning share of the vote stood at 35.2 per cent (with 32.3 per cent for the Tories and 22 per cent for the Lib Dems). It is the lowest that any government has received in modern times.
Whilst the election campaign was criticised as lack-lustre, election night was nothing of the sort. Many marginal constituencies added excitement to the count. The biggest upset was victory for George Galloway, of the anti-war Respect party. With a large handful of votes, he beat Labour’s Oona King in the bitter battle for Bethnal Green.

The Conservatives unseated three junior Labour ministers and won back pre-1997 marginal Conservative seats. However the Liberal Democrat decapitation tactic, targeting, in particular, Tory high flyers, largely failed with only Tim Collins, the Conservative shadow minister for education, unseated.

There will be more independents and minor parties in Parliament than at any time since 1945. Richard Taylor retained Wyre Forest. Former Labour Welsh Assembly member, Peter Law, won Labour’s safest seat in Wales.

Smaller parties also faired well in terms of vote share, with the British National Party receiving five per cent of the vote where they stood, and the Green Party receiving its biggest ever share of the vote at 22 per cent in Brighton. Turnout overall was up two percent at 61 per cent.

Throughout the campaign Tony Blair has faced questions over his leadership. His Party’s performance in this election may well see him step down sooner rather than later. As Gordon Brown’s popularity continues to grow among Labour supporters it seems like only a matter of time until Blair’s most likely successor is handed the Premiership.

On the other hand, the Conservatives have now faced three defeats on the trot and with the resignation of Mr. Howard have, yet again, leadership problems of their own. Much has been made of the historic nature of this third Labour term but with a reduced majority, comprising of a number of rebels, Labour’s progressive agenda to move “Britain forward not back” is going to be increasing difficult to push through and raises serious questions about the Party’s ability to fulfil its manifesto promises.