BRITISH ELECTION ANALYSIS
MAY 2, 1997
In a sweeping victory Tony Blair and the Labour party won 43.1% of the U.K. vote, handing the Conservatives their worse defeat since 1832. The NewsHour anaylzes the whys and wherefores. Please join our Online NewsHour Forum with U.K. journalists to explore the election results further.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: By any definition it was a sweeping victory for Tony Blair and his new Labour Party. Labour won 43.1 percent of the vote. The Conservatives, also known as Tories, ended up with 30.6 percent, their worst showing since 1832. The shift in seats in the House of Commons was even more dramatic. Labour won 419 seats, a gain of 147 from the last parliament. The Tories held only 165 seats, a loss of 158. A third party, the Liberal Democrats, won 46, a surprising gain of 20. The Labour victory swept the entire country.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
May 6, 1997:
Two English journalists take your questions in an Online Forum.
April 29, 1997:
Simon Marks reports on the final days of the campaign.
Browse the NewsHour's index of European affairs.
ITN's Election Page
GE97 is an election site sponsored by Yahoo UK/Ireland.
There will be no Conservative members of parliament from either Scotland or Wales, and many Tory suburban and rural strongholds throughout Britain will be represented by a Labour or Liberal member for the first time in decades. In Britain the transitions to powers are short. Less than 24 hours after the vote, Blair and his team took office. We have a report from Hugh Pym of Independent Television News.
HUGH PYM: A victorious Labour prime minister at the gates of Downey Street and the piece of political history. This was simply unprecedented, Tony and Ceri Blair walking up towards No. 10, greeting jubilant party workers and some lucky members of the public allowed on this unique occasion to line the famous street. It was the end of an 18-year journey for the Labour Party through four elections defeat, four changes of leader, and times when some in their ranks feared they'd never get back from the political wilderness. And so to this moment swept in on a tide of support not seen in post war politics, Mr. Blair outlined his vision for new Labour in power.
TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister, Great Britain: It shall be a government rooted in strong values, the values of justice and progress and community, the values that have guided me all my political life, but a government ready with the courage to embrace the new ideas necessary to make those values live again for today's world, a government of practical measures in pursuit of noble causes.
HUGH PYM: And there was a warm tribute to his predecessor, John Major.
TONY BLAIR: For his dignity and his courage over the last few days and for the manner of his leaving the essential decency of which is the mark of the man.
HUGH PYM: And that man, less than two hours earlier, had stood in the same spot, leaving No. 10 for the last time, and surprising everyone by indicating he'd be leaving the Tory leadership too.
JOHN MAJOR, Former Prime Minister: Good morning. When the curtain falls, it's time to get off the stage, and that is what I propose to do.
HUGH PYM: And with the final farewells he was gone. Under this brutally efficient process there was to be no return to Downing Street. The removal vans already waiting at a discreet distance. And so on to the palace after seven years in office, and so many audiences with the queen, this was to be the last. Mr. Major tendering his resignation as prime minister, the final, formal termination of 18 years of Conservative government; and after his short audience with the queen, Mr. Blair emerged as the youngest prime minister this century, ready for the short drive to Downing Street and the first taste of government.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: For more on today's election we turn now to Michael Elliott, a native of the United Kingdom and editor of Newsweek International and Newsweek's other foreign editions. Michael, tell us the mark of this man. Who is Tony Blair?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT, Newsweek: He's a very interesting character, Charlayne. I sometimes think--I think he's a man whose past one believes is slightly easier to get ahold of than his political one. He's a man who the French would call come to double in his own skin. He has a loving family, young kids. He's married to a successful lawyer. When I've met him, I've always been struck by him as someone he knew what he wanted, and he was very comfortable with the life that he led, and under the circumstances in which he found himself.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Why is he called Tony "Blurr"?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Well, he's called Tony "Blurr"--I can't say that because I've from Liverpool--the word is unknown to my voice. He's called that because politically his positions and his programs have been pretty fuzzy over the past 50 years. He's painted in a very broad brush. He's spoken a lot about values, you heard in that little clip that you just heard talking about community and the like. He's been speaking in abstract nouns which is not actually to aim its British political debate which he conducted.
The British like their political debate--in terms of very hard and fast positions that people can take and then be opposed. Two things I think set him apart from most modern British and indeed European politicians in a very interesting way. The first is that he quite explicitly wears on his sleeve the fact that he's a religious man, as is his wife religious too, and that I am absolutely convinced has served him well in middle England, in the Shires and the suburbs, that your ITN clip mentioned earlier.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Explain briefly the difference traditionally between Labour and the Tories and tell us about how different that will be in a Blair-led government.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: In the ideological age, which I suppose we have to imagine has now ended, the Labour Party, with the left of center, the Socialist Party with its roots in the trade union movement in the 19th century, and to an extent in Marxism, and to an extent in the--in the social welfare values of the Methodist and other non-conformist chapels--the Conservative Party was the right wing party, much more connected to free enterprise and to free market values.
What's happened is that Mrs. Thatcher came along and transformed Britain, turned it upside down. One of the things that I think is plain in this election is that Tony Blair is Mrs. Thatcher's legatee. He is her true heir. He has presented a program that in very large measure economically is Thatcherism with a human face, but he won't be just about economics. He also has a major program of constitutional reform ahead of him, and could turn out in some ways I think to be a rather revolutionary leader, as she was.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, voters quoted in today's press seem to think there will be big changes that will benefit the poor, the working class, and the middle class. Has Blair and Labour promised more social justice and a government more active on their behalf?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: On the contrary. On the contrary. They have gone out of their way to satisfy the financial markets by promising that there will essentially be no new large standing on social welfare programs. And one of the reasons is the financial markets have not reacted in the way that they would have been expected to allay the victory in times past is precisely because Blair and his--to the extent their old finance minister, Gordon Brown--have emphasized over and over again that they're going to be fiscally very prudent. This too is a mark of the new kind of politics not just in Britain but in the whole of Europe which simply doesn't leave room anymore for the kind of expansive Keynesian expanding that left of center parties used to make their own.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Hence, the term New Labour Party.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Indeed. Indeed.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, if it's a revolutionary moment, where is it revolutionary, other than in the fact that Labour is in after so long in the valley?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Oh, the revolution is in the nature of the British state, to use a word that's more common in Europe than it is here in the U.S.. Blair's program of constitutional reform, a complete abolition of the right of hereditary peers to vote in the House of Lords, the introduction of a bill of rights, which Britain has not had before, devolution of legislative power to Scotland and possibly to Wales, this is truly revolutionary. This takes a society whose constitutional structures have slowly evolved under 300 centuries, and codifies them in a new and entirely unprecedented way with entirely unanticipated results. None of us can know how Britain will look in 10 years time, and none of us can know how other institutions in Britain, like the monarchy, for example, will be affected by the constitutional changes that Blair has now set out.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In terms of the list that you just gave, is there anything else, I mean, that the--the biggest change that we can expect, or have you named them all pretty much?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: I think I would be prepared to bet, although he hedged this issue very carefully in the campaign, I would be prepared to bet that the size of majority that he has, the prime minister takes a much more positive attitude to European--European integration than the Conservative Party did.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Which opposed it, or at least Major put it on the table--let's think--
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Pretty much opposed it. European integration is never an easy subject for Britain. Britain has different histories, different cultures, different economic systems, different mix from those of its continental European neighbors, and it will always be more difficult for Britain to be European, in quotes, than it is for the French or Germans.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Michael, very briefly--I hate to interrupt you, but what has Blair said about the special U.S.-Anglo relationship, especially given that Blair has been incessantly compared with Clinton, as was his campaign? And we have to have this one brief.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: I think that the body language will be a little better than it has been in the last two years, but I think basically the special relationship, such as it is, relies on the fact that every American administration finds it useful--sooner or later finds it useful to have an ally it can rely on in Europe, and every British administration finds that it has issues of international economics, intelligence, defense, what have you.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But we--
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: But they always find themselves close to Washington.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But we can expect to see perhaps a Clintonesque type leader?
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Well, I'm not sure about that. Ask yourself this: What does Tony Blair, with the kind of landslide that he has just had yesterday, gain by cozying up to Bill Clinton right now?
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, why don't we leave it on that question and come back to it at another time.
MICHAEL ELLIOTT: Thanks, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you very much for joining us.