Analysis and comments
Article added on May 12, 2005
Yes, the British are different.
Not only do they drive on the "wrong" side, but their first-past-the-post
electoral system also allows Tony Blair to govern with a comfortable majority
of 60 seats with just a good third of the electorate behind him.
The official results of the 2005
UK general election give Labor 355 seats out of 646 with only 35.7% of the
popular vote. This is the lowest percentage ever won by a a party governing
the UK. In any other European country, this would mean electoral defeat
or force the ruling party into a coalition. Not so in the United Kingdom.
Unlike in the US, the Iraq war cost Tony Blair credibility and the Labour Party
votes and seats. It is evident that back-benchers, the one hundred who lost their seats and the
party basis will push Blair to resign sooner rather than later in order to
give his successful finance minister (chancellor of the Exchequer) finally the chance to show whether he is able to govern the
Gordon Brown' driving ambition to become Prime Minister is no secret. Because
of the Iraq disaster, Blair was forced to have his rival and likely successor
at his side during the electoral campaign. They won as inseparable
"twins", a show of unity, with Brown confessing to journalists -
standing next to Blair - that he would also have decided to go to war against
Iraq. There is a price for loyalty, in the case of the 54-year-old Brown, the
reward is known.
Labour's best selling point was the strong UK economy. This is only partly a
success of the ruling party. Most of the successful recipes are a legacy of
Lady Thatcher. The former conservative Prime Minister not only managed to stop
Britain's economic downfall, but to reverse the trend. The harsh and unpopular
reform years behind them, New Labour largely continued on the prepared path of
Thatcherism, abandoning socialist ideas, but without communicating it in
detail to the party basis, which partly became estranged from its leaders.
From 2001 to 2005, the Labour government managed to make the UK grow stronger
than Continental Europe. A presentable growth and a low unemployment rate, no
inflation and monetary stability, a GDP per capita higher than in France and
Germany speak in favor of the ruling party.
However, taxes are on the rise from 39% in 1997 to almost 42%, which they are
predicted to reach in 2007/2008. And this without Labour having delivered
substantial healthcare (NHS), education and transport reforms so far. Changes
as important as in Blair's first term 1997-2001
(Bank of England, decentralization, etc. + New Labour article
Inside Story of New Labour) cannot be expected. However, the Iron Lady
introduced her groundbreaking measures with a majority of only 44 seats. Who
knows, Blair or maybe even more so a future Prime Minister Brown - who has not
yet lost his credibility - may surprise us.
As important as the strong economy for Labour's unprecedented third consecutive
win was the lack of an alternative to Blair. The leader of the Conservative
Party, Michael Howard, could not present a substantially different vision for
Britain. The Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy had as his only strong selling
point his firm opposition to the Iraq war. But the party which once
convincingly stood for economic liberalism has moved to the left, partly
occupying territory once held be Old Labour. This is luckily not an
alternative for a majority. A vote for the Liberal Democrats was a protest
Blair's legacy so far is the reform of the Labour Party, which he brought back
to power. However, despite "New Labour" and "The Third
Way", he has not presented a new vision for Britain and the UK. The hard
measures for a renewed country had been introduced by Lady Thatcher, hence
Thatcherism will remain the period's key word. Only if the US should manage to
reshape and democratize the Middle East, Blair - as Bush's closest ally - will
be associated in future history books with groundbreaking reforms and a vision
(for the Middle East, not Britain).
|UK general elections
645 of 646 seats declared so far.
Because of the death of a candidate, the 2005 election has been postponed in
one constituency. The number of mandates has shrunk from 659 in 2001 to 646 in
2005 because the number of constituencies in Scotland has been reduced.
Further reading, literature on Gordon Brown and New Labour
- Tom Bower: Gordon Brown. Get it from Amazon.co.uk
- Robert Peston: Brown's Britain. Get it from Amazon.co.uk
- Andrew Rawnsley: Servants of the People - The Inside Story of New Labour.
Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, September 2000, 434 p. Get the book from Amazon.co.uk,
(check our article
The Inside Story of New Labour for a review).