People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
May 22, 2005
Sections Of British
Society Clip Tony Blair’s Wings
clearest message of general elections 2005 in Britain is that prime minister
Tony Blair and his Labour Party cannot take liberal-progressive sections of the
British society for granted. The message is that the Labour government cannot
dump liberal values and undertake projects like Iraq War with impunity; it
cannot introduce regressive measure like identity cards and speak the language
of Conservatives on Asylum and Immigration Policy while wearing the cloak of
‘New Labour’; Tony Blair cannot steamroll his way in parliament making a
mockery of parliamentary democracy by effectively converting it into a
presidential system; that Britons trust Gordon Brown with the economy, its
growth and benefits that follow for the middle and upper classes.
Labour Party won a historic third term in office. True, Labour Party won a
majority, which in the 70’s would have been termed ‘comfortable.’ However,
it is also a fact that the present Labour government has been formed on the
support of merely 36 per cent of those who voted, making it the least popular in
that sense, in a century and a half. Also, enjoying a majority of only 66 means
that had Labour lost a mere 34 more seats, it would have resulted in a hung
parliament. Very many Labour seats have been lost to Liberal Democrats and
others to Conservatives owing to a three-way split courtesy Liberal Democrats.
In many respects, Liberal Democrats have emerged as upholders of traditional
Left values and if the trend were to continue, it could pose a real challenge to
the Labour in the days ahead.
Party won 356 seats compared with 413 in the previous House.
Conservatives won 197 compared with 166 in 2001 and the Liberal Democrats
won 62 seats this year as compared to 42 in the previous poll. With the overall
polling percentage being merely 61 per cent, Labour support slid from 42 per
cent to 36 per cent of the votes polled. The Conservatives improved their
position marginally by about one per cent in terms of votes polled while Liberal
Democrats increased their support from 18 to 22 per cent.
the final phase of electioneering, a few days prior to casting of ballot, Iraq
issues, brushed under the carpet by Labour, came to the boil. It
brought to the fore the issue of trust in Tony Blair, that had dogged him
all through his campaign. Prime minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of Exchequer
Gorden Brown frantically tried to conjure new tricks out of their bag. With
slogans like - “If Labour supporters decide to register a protest vote, they
will let in Conservatives by default” and “Your mortgage is at risk”
Labour Party tried to scare the electorate to forget about Iraq and such issues
in view of the risk to their earnings, loans and finally their pocket.
Labour Party’s strategy didn’t pay off in the areas for which it was
intended. In an East London constituency, Labour Party’s previous lead of
10,000 votes was overturned by expelled Labour leader George Galloway, who
campaigned primarily on the plank of illegality of Iraq War. Elsewhere, foreign
minister Jack Straw saw his lead decrease by about 12 per cent owing to this
issue. The Liberal Democrats’ principled stand of opposing Iraq War right from
the beginning paid dividends and they snatched many seats from Labour.
Party’s gamble of playing ‘Stable Economy’ trump card, did pay off in many
areas. Low interest rates on loans, more investment in social welfare measures,
claim of creating 22 lakh jobs since 1997 under Labour compared to 30 lakh
unemployed under the Tory government and passing of National Minimum Wage Bill
were the high points of Labour campaign which worked in their favour. Compared
to this, conservative campaign never took off in the real sense except for
focussing initially on fear of immigration/asylum seekers flooding Britain. Very
many, conservative gains resulted from three-way split of vote with working
class/progressive vote being split between Labour and Liberal Democrats.
the electoral scenario resulting after the poll, Tony Blair is going to find it
difficult to tackle Labour back-benchers on contentious issues like introduction
of Identity Card scheme. On issues like Iraq, if a vote is sought from the House
of Commons, as was done prior to Iraq War, Tony Blair and his ilk may no longer
be able to have their way. Sacrifice of civil liberties and a more pro-US
attitude of Labour government will no longer be acceptable even to Labour Party,
what to talk of the House as a whole.
The issue of change of guard in the Labour Party with Tony Blair being replaced by Gordon Brown will gain currency, sooner than expected. Tony Blair has been seen as a liability rather than an asset by the Labour Party in this poll. So, it is only a matter of time before Tony Blair either exits or the party makes him leave. However, the most crucial issue for the Labour Party will be how it draws back the traditional progressive/liberal Labour vote. The failure to do so could herald the return of three-party era in British Politics, which ended in the 1970s.