The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Blair wins office but not popular support

Andrew Jackson

With Tony Blair's return to power never in doubt, all speculation was focused on the size of his majority. While the lion's share of Labour's losses went to the opposition Conservatives, it was the victories of the anti-war forces which caused the biggest upsets.

Tony Blair has won an historic third term for Labour, but under Britain's "first past the post" voting system he also earns the ignominy of leading the least-supported government in modern times.

Labour won 55 per cent of the seats with just 36 per cent of the vote at the polls. But with only 61 per cent of eligible Britons voting, it means the Tony Blair has won government with the support of only 22 per cent of the population.

Fallout from Labour's policies of war and privatisation has seen the party's majority slashed from 167 to just 66. This has sparked calls from a growing number of Labour MPs for Mr Blair to resign.

Glenda Jackson, actor-turned-Labour MP and once a Minister in the government, has been a thorn in Blair's side as a prominent anti-war campaigner. Writing in The Mail on Sunday, she declared: "The people have spoken. In fact they've screamed at the top of their lungs. And their message is clear. They want Tony Blair gone."

Being an outspoken Blair critic appeared to be a plus for Labour candidates of 39 MPs deemed to be "hard-core rebels" in the last parliament, 37 have been returned. These MPs voted as a block against the government on four major issues: Iraq, privatisation of hospitals, university fees and anti-terrorist legislation.

An additional 29 "soft-core" rebels who voted against the government on at least two of those issues will again be filling the seats behind Tony Blair.

Labour lost one of its safest seats in Wales to a former party member. Peter Law, a self- declared "independent socialist" who previously sat as a Labour MP in the Welsh Parliament, overturned Labour's massive 19,000 vote majority to win the seat by 9000.

The government's conduct in Iraq and on civil liberties was a liability amongst Britain's huge Muslim population. The ability to attract this demographic along with left-wing voters allowed the fledgling Respect Party to gain its first seat in Parliament.

George Galloway, a former Labour MP who was expelled from the Party over his anti-war campaigning, scored an upset win for Respect over staunch Blair supporter Oona King.

With a net gain of 11 seats, the Liberal Democrat Party was widely seen as the big winner on the night, which it claimed vindicated its stand as the only major party consistently against the Iraq war.

The Liberal Democrat's policies of withdrawing troops from Iraq, scrapping university tuition fees, ending means-testing of age pensions, opposition to compulsory ID cards and a new income tax on those earning over 100,000 a year have drawn over one million new and mostly young voters.

The Green Party declared itself delighted with its general election result. Campaigning on social justice and sustainability, many Green candidates saw their share of the vote double.

Green candidate Keith Taylor, who won 22 per cent in a Brighton-based seat, said: "The fact that thousands of Green voters will be getting more of the same old politics is an indictment of Tony Blair, who broke yet another promise to reform the grossly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system".

Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called for a "new chartist movement" to demand a genuinely democratic electoral and parliamentary system.

Mr Tatchell declared it "intolerable" that any party could comfortably win a general election despite "minority support".

"How dare Tony Blair lecture President Mugabe about unfair elections, when our own election has produced such patently unfair and unrepresentative results. This is not democracy. It is a form of political corruption that echoes the rotten boroughs of 19th century England."

Meanwhile Conservative Party leader Michael Howard announced that he would stand down, despite his party gaining 33 seats.

The UK Independance Party, a anti-EU nationalist conservative party which won 16 per cent and 12 seats at last year's EU elections, polled badly and will now lose A$650,000 in election deposts.

Acknowledgement to Morning Star, Britain's daily paper of the left for material used in this article.

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