2001 United Kingdom general election

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God Save the King?

The 2001 UK general election is barely remembered at all; it being perhaps the dullest and most non-controversial electoral outing for the country in living memory. This led to the ruling Labour Party to fear that voter apathy might ruin their chances. While turnout was the lowest since 1918, Labour managed to retain their 1997 landslide almost completely intact. It was also notable for the continued rise of the Liberal Democrats (best showing since 1929) and a shift in Northern Ireland from the (relative) moderate 'Unionism' of the Ulster Unionist Party to the dogmatic right-wing variant of the Democratic Unionist Party. It was also the first election where all three major party leaders had been born after the Second World War.


Sometimes, politicians get lucky; and Tony Blair was certainly that in his first Ministry. The economy ticked over well, the UK managed to dodge the crisis from the 'dot-com crash'Wikipedia with barely a murmur and crises such as a serious foot-and-mouth outbreak[1], a fortnight-long 'Fuel Tax Strike' by lorry drivers and farmers[2][3] and the NATO intervention in Kosovo[4][5] were all small enough to be 'manageable' and was done so with some finesse (the ease and success of the latter leading to further British adventures with the Americans.)

On the domestic front, the party was a cautious social liberal; performing actions such as passing the Human Rights Act[6] and introducing the minimum wage[7] while collecting most of the kudos for the Good Friday Agreement, which put The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the freezer.[8] It also presided over a bit of welcome democratisation; with 'reforms' to the House of Lords[9], the establishment of 'devolved administrations' in the non-English parts of the country[10][11] and several directly-elected city mayors, such as for London[12]. The main complaint was the lack of real increases in social spending to reverse two decades of Conservative rule, as the then-Chancellor Gordon Brown had promised in the last election to keep to Conservative spending plans – a key plank of 'New Labour' being 'credible on the economy'.


With all the polls pointing to another landslide, Labour played it safe; another content-light media blitz mainly highlighting previous Conservative failures or mocking the opposition leader William Hague as being nothing more than a dorkish schoolboy retread of Thatcher. Hague wasn't that bad, but was quite clearly out of his political depth going head-to-head with Blair at his peak. Perhaps the only memorable incident was when the then deputy Prime Minister John Prescott punched a protestor.[13]

On their part, the Conservatives did try to put up a fight; but not only had they not recovered from their previous drubbing but more importantly, there wasn't a huge amount Blair and Company had done that they really objected to. In the end, it mainly featured an attempt to make the election a Eurosceptic 'referendum on joining the Euro'[14] and promising unspecified tax cuts.

The Liberal Democrats continued their policy of running to the 'left' of Labour, this time proposing several policies explicitly ruled out by Blair, much to the chagrin of both socialists and social liberals of his party. Basically, it was a bet that as Third Way shifted Labour into the political centre, the Liberals could make hay on the exposed flank.


The bookmakers started to pay out on bets made on a Labour victory even before the election, and they were right; another Labour landslide, 'only' a working majority of 170. The only real movements were between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but due to the fact the two parties are rarely direct competitors, the shift represented a slight Labour loss to the Conservatives, while an equal shift led Conservative seats being lost to the Liberals.

Seats Change Vote % Change
Labour 413 -6 40.7 -2.5
Conservatives 166 +1 31.6 +1.0
Liberal Democrats 52 +6 18.3 +1.5
Other 28 -1 9.4 +0.1

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