Today is a day to celebrate. We have a third-term Labour government, something which has never been achieved before in the entire history of the party.
It has a comfortable, if severely reduced majority in the House of Commons of around 66 seats. For a third term government in the postwar era, that is a very respectable figure, and more then enough for Labour to work with. In 1979, Thatcher had a majority of only 44.
The Conservatives were not slaughtered, and many Tories will most likely be delighted with their significant gains. But, if you look at the popular vote, an interesting fact emerges. Labour’s went way down, reflecting the droves of voters who deserted the party often over the war in Iraq. However, the Tory share did not increase substantially at all. This clearly shows that while many voters will not support Labour and Tony Blair, the Conservatives have failed to win around support for a Tory future.
Congratulations to the Liberal Democrats, who gained seats as they should. I urge supporters in ‘Labour vs Conservative’ seats to look at what happened though – situations where the Labour vote drifted to the Lib Dems and caused a Tory victory as predicted. Given that they have shown themselves to be a brilliant opposition over the last parliament, but hardly ready for government, it seems sad to see them steal Labour seats rather than Tory ones.
Their ‘decapitation’ strategy also seems to have failed, though personally I always thought it was a bit of a long shot. It did manage to topple Tim Collins though, losing a member of the shadow cabinet, which was a joy to watch after his focus on ‘school discipline’ and nothing else in education during the campaign. He got what he deserved, at least.
Long term, however, there are certainly issues now. The Labour party has always been at its most successful as a compromise between the left and centre of the party. If they swing too far in one direction, their ability to govern effectively is compromised. My hope is that a reduced majority will prompt Blair to tread more carefully on controversial issues, draft better laws, and engaging with parliament as he should. And hopefully those ‘control orders’ will not survive the yearly review.
I have to wonder where this all leaves Gordon Brown. He was looking like a strong leader already in his speech last night, but would he be able to increase Labour’s majority again next time round, or are all government’s destined for a downward spiral? The hope is that the loss in ‘Middle England’ votes could be made up for by having the ‘Not Tony Blair’ people return to the fold.
There are only two really depressing things to come out of this election. The first is the BNP vote, which seemed to reach 10% in some areas. I wonder out loud how much the relentless Conservative push on immigration managed to stir this up, but it would be unfair to blame them for a more deep rooted problem. In short – there is still a small but significant number of very racist people in Britain today.
The other one is George Galloway. Seeing a good Labour MP defeated by a madman is painful, particularly when he seems to have become a cartoon of himself, and no doubt will be a thorn in the side of Blair during the next parliament. There were some decent anti-war independents standing – calm and honest people who never shook hands with Saddam Hussein – and any one of them would be better than Galloway. My commiserations to anyone who will have to work with him now as MP for a place he’s got no connection with apart from a conveniently large proportion of Muslims.
So – that’s election 2005 over and done with now. In my own constituency Lib Dem Sarah Teather held on, which is fair enough, because I get the feeling she really wanted it more “than anyone else in the whole wide world!” Congratulations – now let Labour put their ambitious progressive program into action.