UK General Elections 2000-2019
2001: Blair's quiet landslide
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The 2001 general election was originally expected to be held on 3rd May but was postponed as a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The election was essentially a re-run of 1997 with only 21 constituencies in England, Wales and Scotland changing hands. The governing Labour Party had presided over a relatively calm economic situation and had lead the majority of opinion polls since taking office in 1997 with the party suffering a wobble in September 2000 following fuel protests. Labour quickly retook the lead and it had ballooned back to around 16 percent as the election drew closer. Tony Blair remained personally popular throughout the parliament. The Conservatives elected William Hague as leader following the resignation of John Major and only marginally improved their position with a net gain of one seat. Labour were returned to power with 413 seats and a mega-majority for the second election in a row; any hopes that the Conservatives could quickly recover from their 1997 position were dashed. The Liberal Democrats increased their number of seats 52, whilst Dr Richard Taylor stood under the banner of 'Independent Community and Health Concern' in Wyre Forest and successfully unseated Labour's David Lock. Overall, Labour suffered just five net-losses and even managed to gain some seats, including Dorset South, from the Conservatives. The Conservatives did manage to take Galloway and Upper Nithsdale from the Scottish National Party, thus ending their position as an 'England only' party. At 59.4 percent, the turnout in 2001 is notable for being the lowest since 1945.
2005: Blair makes it three
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Labour's second term in office had been dominated by Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Throughout the parliament, Labour had led the majority of the opinion polls but the Conservatives tied with Labour and registered leads on more than one occasion. Unlike the period between 1997 and 2001 when Labour regularly polled leads of 15-20 points, the Labour lead tended to be around 10 points. Michael Howard had took over the leadership of the Conservative Party after Iain Duncan Smith was ousted by the party in November 2003 and Howard campaigned on issues such as immigration. The slogan 'its not racist to impose limits on immigration' caused some controversy and both Blair and Howard were accused of running 'presidential' campaigns. The Conservatives attacked Labour on its management of the National Health Service and on rising levels of crime. They commented that hospitals were 'dirty' and made heavy use of the slogan 'are you thinking what we're thinking?' Labour counterattacked by highlighting Michael Howard's role as Home Secretary in the 1990-1997 John Major administration. After eight years of economic growth, Labour were able to champion a strong economy alongside investment in public services. Labour's successes, however, were overshadowed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the Liberal Democrats looked to attract disaffected Labour voters. In the final opinion polls before election day, Labour were registering a comfortable lead over the Conservatives pointing to a third successive victory. The Labour Party won 356 seats and achieved a historic third term in office. The Labour victory was less comfortable than many opinion polls had suggested with the much reduced overall majority coming as a surprise (although enviable in historic terms). Labour's vote share of 35.2 percent remains the lowest share achieved by a winning party with an overall majority in the post-war era. Labour lost one of its safest seats, Blaenau Gwent, to independent Peter Law and lost over 30 seats to the Conservatives. The Scottish National Party increased its representation in Scotland from five to six, gaining the Western Isles from Labour for the first time since 1987. Former Labour MP, George Galloway, stood for the Respect Party and unseated Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow. Plaid Cymru lost Ceredigion to Liberal Democrats and Labour won Leicester South, which it had previously lost at a by-election. The Liberal Democrats achieved their best share of the vote since their merger with the SDP in 1988, winning the most seats for any third party since 1923. The party's 'decapitation' strategy against the Conservatives proved not to be as effective as they had hoped but they performed better than expected in many Liberal Democat-Labour marginals. In England, the Conservatives edged the popular vote, polling 72,544 more votes than Labour but won 92 less seats. Overall, there was a swing of 3.1 percent from Labour to Conservative and the Conservatives increased their total number of seats to 198. The Conservative vote share only inclined slightly but this was the first election since 1983 in which the Conservatives made significant gains in terms of seats. The Democratic Unionists gained four seats and replaced the Ulster Unionists as the largest Northern Irish party in the House of Commons. For the first time since the 1929 general election, no party received over 10 million votes. With his overall majority reduced from 167 to 66, Tony Blair acknowledged that he had 'listened and learned' and promised to 'focus relentlessly' on the public's priorities.
2010: Hung parliament ends Labour rule
CON short by 19
LAB short by 68
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Gordon Brown replaced Tony Blair as Prime Minister in 2007 and rumours of a general election circulated for some time as the Labour Party experienced a bounce in the opinion polls. It is alleged that Brown was on the verge of calling a snap poll but on 6th October 2007, he announced that there would be no election in the 'immediate period'. Brown's fortunes quickly changed with the 2007 financial crisis and the Conservatives edged ahead in the opinion polls eventually clocking up leads of over 20 percent over Labour. The 2009 MPs’ expenses scandal hit all three of the major parties but the Conservatives painted it as a product of a system that Labour had failed to address. David Cameron was elected as leader of the Conservative Party in 2005 following the resignation of Michael Howard. Cameron beat nearest rival, David Davis by a margin of 35.2 percentage points in the final postal ballot of party members. The Labour Party campaign got off to a rocky start when the Prime Minister referred to a voter as a ‘bigoted woman’ whilst still wearing a Sky News microphone. Brown visited the voter involved and privately apologised. As the election approached, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown took part in several television debates. After the first of these debates, on 15th April 2010, the Liberal Democrats overtook the Conservatives and Labour in several opinion polls. Most pundits began to speculate that Britain was heading towards a hung parliament and that the Liberal Democrats would hold the balance of power. Senior Liberal Democrats had warned Nick Clegg not to go into coalition with either of the major parties without the promise of proportional representation. The result of the election was a clear victory for the Conservatives in terms of votes and they became the largest party in the House of Commons for their first time in 13 years. They failed, however, to secure an overall majority, falling short by 19 seats. The Conservatives polled 36.1 percent of the votes cast, a rise of 3.7 percentage points compared to 2005. Labour suffered heavy losses, left with 258 seats. At 29 percent, Labour’s vote share was the party’s lowest since 1983. Although there was a 5.1 percent swing from Labour to the Conservatives nationally, there was a small swing towards Labour in its Scottish heartland. Despite 'Clegg-mania', the Liberal Democrats only added one percentage point to their vote share and lost five seats, taking their total to 57. The Green Party won the seat of Brighton Pavilion and gained its first member of the House of Commons. Five days of haggling followed between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. On 11th May 2010, Gordon Brown visited Buckingham Palace to resign as Prime Minister and David Cameron was invited to form a government. The following day, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary party and Federal Executive approved a coalition with the Conservatives. The coalition government had an effective majority of 78 but was not expected to last a full term. Contrary to expectation, David Cameron and Nick Clegg governed together for the full five years. The result in one constituency, Oldham East and Saddleworth, was declared void owing to illegal practices during the campaign.
2015: Cameron's sweetest victory
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After five years of coalition government with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the opinion polls suggested that the 2015 general election was too close to call. Most pundits projected that Labour would be fractionally ahead in terms of seats with no two parties able to form a governing coalition without a third member. The notion that Britain was heading for a hung parliament drove the narrative of the election campaign in its final weeks with politicians from the two major parties being asked who they would be prepared to work with and what concessions they would make if they were forced to do so. At local elections in 2012, Labour had made big gains and Ed Miliband had looked set to deliver a convincing overall majority. Their lead in the polls over the Conservatives slowly whittled down and following the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, the SNP saw a surge in support and looked set to overtake Labour in its Scottish heartland. On election day, the Conservatives emerged with a small overall majority and David Cameron's party became the first in the post-war era to increase both its share of the vote and number of seats after a full term in government. Labour were left far behind on 232 seats, suffering 26 net losses. The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander were both defeated, illustrating the gravity of Labour's losses. Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats were punished severely for their time in the coalition; dropping from 57 seats to 8 and being replaced as the third largest party by the SNP who won a landslide of 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland. UKIP achieved 12.6 percent of the popular vote (third place) but only managed to win one seat, Clacton. As a result of failing to get elected in Thanet South, Nigel Farage resigned as party leader but returned to the roll after claiming that his resignation was not accepted. Caroline Lucas held Brighton Pavilion and remained the Green Party's sole member of parliament. Upon entering Downing Street, David Cameron announced that he would be forming a majority Conservative government, commenting that he believed that the country was 'on the brink of something special.'
2017: May's gamble backfires
Theresa May inherited David Cameron's slender majority following his resignation in 2016 and repeatedly ruled out a general election despite massive leads in the opinion polls and a bitterly divided Labour party as her opponents. She shocked the nation on 18th April 2017 when she announced that, contrary to her previous comments, she would be going to the country. With an enviable and seemingly shock-proof poll lead, most assumed that she would win the Conservative Party's biggest overall majority since 1983 and that Jeremy Corbyn would go down to the worst Labour defeat since 1935. The Conservative campaign was centered around Theresa May and her ability to deliver Brexit. The campaign began to falter, however, after their manifesto launch particularly on the issue of social care. One policy became dubbed the 'dementia tax' and proved to be an issue for the remainder of the campaign. Labour's manifesto was leaked a few days ahead of launch but it was popular with voters; pledges included the nationalisation of the railways, a ban on fracking and the abolition of university tuition fees. Following the launch of both the Conservative and Labour manifesto, Labour began to recover in the opinion polls, rising to levels in the mid to high 30s. The Conservatives saw their poll rating drop slightly, but they remained comfortably in the 40-45 percent range. Many pundits disbelieved Labour's recovery, commenting that the rise was based upon unrealistically high turnout among young voters and 2015-non-voters. At 10:00 on election night, psephologists and the nation looked on in disbelief as the broadcasters' joint exit poll predicted that the Conservatives were to lose their overall majority and that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party would make net gains. The Labour Party increased its seat count to 262 and its share of the popular vote to 40 percent. Constituencies such as Canterbury, which has never had a Labour MP, turned red. In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon's Scottish National Party lost 21 of its 56 seats as Ruth Davidson's Conservatives made an unprecedented come-back winning 12 Scottish seats and Kezia Dugdale's Labour made shock gains. The Liberal Democrats also made some progress gaining seats such as Twickenham and Eastbourne but lost some of their existing seats including Sheffield Hallam, the seat formerly represented by Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrat share of the vote declined slightly, however, to 7.4 percent. The Green Party held on to its only seat, Brighton Pavilion, whilst UKIP lost Clacton to the Conservatives and saw its share of the vote collapse from 12.6 to 1.8 percent. The Conservatives polled their best share of the vote (42.3 percent) since 1983 but lost 13 seats due to the surge in support for the Labour Party. Despite losing her majority, Theresa May announced that she would form a government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland on a 'confidence and supply' basis.
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