This will be big news on a number of levels: First, in roughly eighty years
as one of Britain’s two major parties, Labour has never won two consecutive
elections. Or, to put this in American terms, a Labour Prime Minister has never
been reelected. Labour is also expected to substantially expand it’s already
massive majority in the House of Commons.
But the real story here isn’t so much Labour’s power as the complete and
utter collapse of the Tories — arguably the most successful small-“d”
democratic political party of the twentieth century.
out today shows the first possible bad news for Labour in some time. Their
level of support has dipped to 43% — the lowest yet. But even this unexpected
late slide for Labour (likely a blip actually, earlier in the week they were
surging) underscores the pitiful position of the Tories — since Labour seems to
be losing votes not to them, but rather to the Liberal Democrats, the long-time puny third
party of British politics.
And it’s not like things are exactly hunky dorry in the UK. Last year the
country experienced a mini-energy crisis, recent months have been spent trying
to stamp out a horrific epidemic of foot and mouth disease, and the last week
has seen the worst race riots since the early 1980s. On top of all that, Tony
Blair and his second in command John
Prescott have had some rough
moments on the campaign trail.
So it’s not so much that Labour — or ‘New Labour’ as the Blairites style
themselves — are so strong or on top of things, though they are, but rather
that the Tories have all but ceased to exist as a political force.
At mid-week, Tory leader William Hague
was reduced to the pitiful necessity of arguing that a Labour landslide “would
be extremely dangerous for this country.” In other words, Hague had been
forced to begging the voters for a crushing defeat rather than a
In any case, what’s interesting from an American perspective is that the
Blairites are very close to the Clintonites in terms of ideology, political
style and strategy, and on a personal level as well. Clinton advisors give
advice to the Labour folks and vice versa. So, with all this, why has the
Third-Way model (embraced by Blair and Clinton) seemed to succeed so famously in
the UK while remaining at best stagnated and incomplete in the United States? Or
to put it in more concrete terms, why is Tony Blair going to spend the next five
years in 10 Downing Street while Al
Gore is … well, just where is that guy?
P.S. CORRECTION: As a one-time professional historian (who even did work in
English and British history) I am loathe to admit an historical error, but here
I must. My point above, that Labour has never won successive elections is broadly
true, but technically inaccurate. Labour won power in 1945,
won an election in 1950, but then lost in 1951. They won narrowly in 1964,
expanded their majority in another election in 1966, but then lost in 1970.
Labour won two elections in 1974, but lost power in 1979. Here’s the story:
British governments can call elections at more or less any time they choose
within five years of a parliamentary election. In each period of power Labour
has either needed two quick successive elections to form a stable government,
or, as in 1950-51, won a second election narrowly, proved unable to gover! n
effectively and had to call another election, which it lost. What would be
accurate to say is that Labour has never been able to govern for two successive,
full parliaments. On the other hand, in the post-war era the Tories have twice
managed this, once governing for three consecutive parliaments (’51, ’55, and
’59) and more recently for four (’79,’83,’87,’92). Thanks to an attentive TPM
reader for noting my error.