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Labour Party’s Failure Since 1997: 2001 & 2005 General Elections Essay

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2021

Introduction

The Labour Party is a left faction political organization and presently the runs the administrative government in the United Kingdom. Established during the early years of the 20th century, it has been the most important left wing party of in England, Scotland and Wales then onwards. However, Northern Ireland is considered to be the party’s stronghold where it has only of late started organizing its operations again.

The Labour party outperformed the Liberal Party as the most significant opponent to the Conservative party during the start of the 1920s. It has served several terms in the government of United Kingdom, initially in the form of minority governments during the years 1924 and 1929-31, then as a subordinate ally in the wartime alliance from 1940 to 1945, and later formed a majority government, during the terms in 1945-51 and in 1964-70. The Labour party once again formed the government in 1974-79. (Curtice, 117-118)

However, this time it was with an uncertain and dilapidated majority. The party retorted back with a resounding victory claiming a substantial 179-seat majority during the 1997 general elections with Tony Blair steering the party to a triumph. It was the party’s first general election success since October 1974 and the first general election after 1970 wherein it had surpassed 40% of the popular vote mark. The party’s overwhelming preponderance in the House of Commons was to some extent slenderized to 167 during the 2001 general election and more significantly brought down to 66 in 2005. (Hindmoor, 411)

Background

UK general election: 2001

The UK general election, 2001 was held on 7 June 2001 and the phrase “the quiet landslide” was coined by the media to denote the Labour Party victory. The Labour party claimed its second succeeding supposed ‘landslide victory’ consecutively, upholding its majority position from the preceding election. Tony Blair emerged as the first Labour party prime ministerial candidate to be triumphant in sufficient number of seats to claim his stake to a complete second successive term in government formation. The Labour party surfaced as the victor with an overall majority of 167 seats by popular vote. (Curtice, 119)

However this overall majority was slightly reduced by 12 seats with the party obtaining 179 seats in the previous general elections. The election process was also noticeable due to the evident voter indifference which led to the turnout falling to a mere 59%, the grimmest from the time of the Coupon Election in 1918. All through the course of the election the Labour Party had sustained a considerable lead in the opinion and exit polls and the outcome was believed to be quite certain. However, the low voter turnout hurt the Labour party the most with the party loosing out on approximately 2.5% of its vote share and 6 seats. (Curtice, 120)

UK general election: 2005

The United Kingdom general election of 2005 was held on Thursday, 5 May 2005 to vote for members to the House of Commons. The Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair claimed its third consecutive success in the general elections. However, the major concern of the part was that this time they emerged with a significantly abridged overall majority of merely 66. (Curtice, 120)

The Labour party’s strength decline: 2001 to 2005

The Labour party’s strength declined the most during the time period ranging from 2001 to 2005. In the 2005 general elections had changed to a large extent since the 2001 elections. During the run up to the elections of 2001, the Labour party had had the swing towards them. The incumbent Labour government boasted of a healthy economy and a considerable number of voters identified with the Labour party. The party’s stance was preferred on quite a few key subjects. Even though Labour prime ministerial candidate, Tony Blair, was not overwhelmingly popular, the mass voting public was much more in his favour as compared to his principal opponent, Conservative leader, William Hague. (Hindmoor, 405)

After four years in office, and in the run up to the 2005 general elections the blend of issues had changed considerably. In addition Blair’s image was now considered to be quite damaging not only by political adversaries, but by scores of workers in the Labour party itself. Various opinion polls demonstrated the fact that Labour had merely a slender lead over the Conservative party amongst the body of voters all together. As a matter of fact at the initial phases of the campaign the Conservative party claimed a slightly ahead status than the Labour party among possible voters. Right from the beginning of the 2005 the momentum seemed to be swinging away from the Labour party.

Impact of the 9/11 attacks

The 9/11 attacks instigated a sequence of events that transformed Britain’s political arena. Even though its effects on party support were ephemeral, the dreadful attack surfaced as the primary support for those who asserted that Saddam Hussein’s rogue administration in Iraq ought to be a key target in America’s war on terrorism. As deliberation relating to the understanding of unification with the United States in a “coalition of the willing” in opposition to Iraq deepened, the Labour party support slowly but surely declined. Prime Minister Blair, the most important advocate of British involvement in the alliance, infuriated the populace outside of and—possibly with more significance—inside the Labour party as well. (Curtice, 126)

In the eyes of many of his countrymen, by being resolute on the issue of using British troops to overthrow the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Blair had proven himself to be a pet of a pro-war American leadership. The war and the involvement of Great Britain as a key ally did not go well with the European faction as well as the common population of the United Kingdom. With events leading up to the war plunging into a high near the beginning of 2003, anti-war activists staged enormous remonstrations in London and in other main British cities and towns as well.

However, these efforts did not have any effect of Britain’s decision to join the war. With the commencement of hostility against Iraq during the month of March 2003 the situation shaped a sizable downfall effect on Blair’s party. With number of casualties swelling up and weapons of mass destruction still not found, the war turned out to be progressively more ostracized and criticism of the administration’s political decisions increased significantly. (Hindmoor, 402-403)

Suicide of Dr. David Kelly

Another event took place in mid-July 2003 which should be mentioned as it had serious implications for the Labour party as a whole. Controversy over the Iraq argument stridently deepened whilst British weapons expert, Dr. David Kelly, committed suicide. Kelly, a member of staff of the Ministry of Defence, had been branded by the administration as the person acting as a key source for a BBC news report that the chief-of-staff, Alistair Campbell, had spiced-up information relating to Saddam Hussein’s competence to possess biological weapons of mass destruction. In the backdrop of the disputation involved in the suicide case, Labour support gradually tumbled. A sovereign judicial investigation later cleared the administration of any misconduct.

However, several voters of the United Kingdom viewed this report as a complete cover up. The war had developed into an unambiguous detested issue with opinion polls on a regular basis delineating that up to 70% of the common mass were not in favour of Britain’s involvement in Iraqi war. (Curtice, 126)

Pre 2005 general elections

In the events leading up to the 2005 general elections, Iraq emerged as one of numerous issues which had a small or practically no resonance with the voting public four years earlier. As reinforced by various other public polls, when requested to make out the most significant issue that the country faces, virtually half of the respondents, standing at 48%, in the 2005 British Election Study (BES) pre-election survey referred to issues such as transgression, immigration, Iraq or the terror campaign. (Hindmoor, 408)

Merely 6% had alluded to these problems in the run up to the 2001elections. On the contrary, the weight laid on social services such as health issues; educational facilities, etc. were to a large extent abridged. This was a significant downfall from 38% to 25%. (Curtice, 124) Public service concerns were by tradition a Labour strong point, and their weakened saliency did not bode well for the Labour party. Also posing an awkward challenge for the party was the actuality that just one individual amongst 10 agreed that economic issues were a top priority. Ever since the Labour party had assumed power in the year 1997, Great Britain had the benefit of a fortuitous amalgamation of continual economic escalation pooled with low inflation rates with unemployment not being a major issue.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown was extensively accredited for the blissful economic conditions, and lots of electorates supposed that Labour, as compared to the Conservatives, were better suited to the job of handling the nation’s economy. Nevertheless, the new-fangled 2005 mix of issues was such that it was likely that it was going to be complicated for the Labour advocators to translate their reliability on the economic issue into consent of the common voters. (Hindmoor, 417)

Conclusion

It is clear from the above discussion that the state of affairs in United Kingdom’s political landscape has drastically changed since 1997 when the Labour Party upward rise was being staged. There have been various issues which have not gone down well with the party’s traditional vote base. In particular, Blair’s adamant decision of allying with America despite the anti-war sentiments of the nation hurt his image. Apart from these issues such as the policies of the incumbent administration concerning immigration, crime etc have somewhat offset the goodwill they earned from sound economic and health policies. The decreased voter turnout in 2001 and 2005 general elections have hurt the Labour party the most. This voter apathy seems to imply that Labour identifiers are not pleased with party’s mode of working and neither do they have a viable alternative in the form of the Conservative Party.

Works Cited

Curtice, John. “New Labour, New Protest? How the Liberal Democrats Profited from Blair’s Mistakes.” Political Quarterly 78.1 (2007): 117-127.

Hindmoor, Andrew. “New Labour and An Economic Theory of Democracy.” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations 7.3 (2006): 402-417.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Labour Party's Failure Since 1997: 2001 & 2005 General Elections'. 14 December.

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