2005 United Kingdom general election

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The 2005 UK general election is mainly remembered for two reasons; it was the first time the Labour Party (and leader) won a third consecutive election and the first election after the events of the War on Terror and the Invasion of Iraq. Due to the strongest showing by the Liberal Democrats since 1929 and the vagaries of 'First Past the Post'; it holds the record in which a majority government was formed on the lowest share of the popular vote. It was also vaguely-notable in that it was the first election since 1935 where one of the major party leaders followed a non-Christian religion[note 1].

Background[edit]

The shape of the Second Blair Ministry was formed two months in with the events of September 11th[note 2] which had the United Kingdom immediately aligning with the United States. However, political strains (both inside the government and among the public in general) rapidly began to show as domestic attempts to combat 'Islamic extremism' became reminiscent of the failed attempts to quash 'The Troubles' and the deepening impression/suspicion that Blair was in fact President Bush's stooge[1] ("Bush's poodle"[2]). This came to a head over the Iraq War[3]; causing the largest political protest in at least a century[4], the largest 'backbench rebellion' against Blair[5], irreparable damage to his popularity and a gaping division within Labour which took a political generation to recover from.

However, Blair's political luck hadn't completely given out. To his right, he had the Conservatives who'd failed to make traction with Iain Duncan Smith for the same reasons William Hague had failed before — lack of appeal and credibility as a possible Prime Minister. So after a quick deposition[6] the Major-era Home Secretary Michael Howard was brought in as a stopgap who could at least sort out the latter issue. On the left he faced the Liberals who under Charles Kennedy had proven a bit of a 'damp squib'; while gaining a significant number of anti-war and/or anti-Third Way supporters they tended to be in the 'wrong' places and perhaps more seriously, only managed to get a single defection from Labour in the whole parliament.[7] Lastly, the internal opposition was disjointed, led by the same old suspects who were mainly people Blair didn't like anyway.[8][9][10]

Two other events of long-term importance happened in this period; firstly the first round of 'EU enlargement' took place which due to an 'open-door' policy and strong economy led to the first waves of some 1.5m Eastern Europeans who would come to work and live in the UK — half of which on a long-term basis[note 3][11]. Naturally, the likes of Nigel Farage almost wet themselves on realising that they could now could get people to hate Brussels by tapping into their xenophobia but in a totally-not-racist manner. On the financial front, Gordon Brown not only failed to notice the coming storm despite the memos but was splashing out on (very needed) new hospitals, schools and roads but paying for them on the never-never via a wheeze called 'private finance initiatives',[note 4] which provided the stuff now but avoided either raising taxes or issuing debt to pay for it immediately, which would make some headline numbers 'look bad'.[12]

Campaign[edit]

The polls had shown the two main parties rather close to each other in the approach; what with the lingering fallout of Iraq and Blair's own waning personal popularity. This led to a much stronger Labour fightback; pointing to the (apparently) stable economy and improving public services, while reminding them of the 'failures' of the Major era — something which was helped by the fact the Conservative leader had been a senior member of said government. This was also the first election campaign where the Chancellor played a major role; the jury is out whether the electoral bonuses were greater than the losses due to the clear antipathy and rivalry between Brown and Blair by this point.[13]

The Conservatives played a rather traditional 'immigration, crime and defence' manifesto, perhaps hoping to capitalise on Howard's Home Office experience and 'tough' reputation in a time where swathes of 'Middle England' was having a vague fears over immigrants, criminals and/or terrorists (partly due to the Daily Mail). However, it soon realised it had an image problem; that some people were supportive of Conservative policies until told they were Conservative policies, and that they were still viewed as the 'Nasty Party'.[14]

The Liberals continued in their progressive tradition, running 'to the left' of Labour on issues of the public services and taxation. However, while Kennedy was clearly a popular leader with the public, he was a somewhat uneven campaigner; partly due to the stresses of being a new father and representing a remote constituency but also due to his drink problem, which was made public the following year.[15]

Results[edit]

While much of the media portrayed the results as showing that the increasingly haughty Blair had been 'cut down to size', this reduced size was still a 'working majority' of 69 for Labour; one which was more than adequate. What's more, the two main opposition parties were considered unlikely to be able to present a united front on most issues. Once again, the vagaries of the electoral system caused somewhat confusing results; such as Labour losing votes to Liberals in constituencies which resulted in a Conservative victory. A clear message that while nearly 1.2m 'left' Labour, only 400k had gone to the Conservatives.

In the general dissatisfaction, the minor parties flourished; UKIP increased their popular vote by 50% (becoming the 'fourth party' in numbers), the Green Party managed similar growth numbers and the fascists from the BNP managed to grow threefold (all still failing to gain a seat, however). The 'Anti-War Coalition' had morphed into the 'Respect Party', which if nothing else allowed the House of Commons to enjoy George Galloway's company for a while longer[16] and the British people to watch his continuing strange political adventure.

Part of the decline in Labour seats was beyond mere voting patterns; due to Scottish devolution, the number of Scottish MPs was reduced by 18% (13 seats) and the majority of the abolished seats had been held by Labour (which is also why the 'Changed Seats' totals don't add up; in 2001 there was 659 seats, not the 646 contested in 2005).

Seats Change Vote % Change
Labour 355 -58 35.2 -5.5
Conservatives 198 +32 32.4 +0.7
Liberal Democrats 62 +10 22.0 +3.7
Other 31 +3 10.4 +1.0

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. The Conservative Party leader, Michael Howard being Jewish.
  2. The term '9/11' isn't popular due to the fact in the British date system that refers to the 9th of November.
  3. Representing a 1.25% long-term rise in the total UK population starting 2004.
  4. To be fair, a Conservative invention.

References[edit]