Alarm bells for Blair in Labour's Euro inquest inquiry

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The Independent Online
A SECRET Labour report has warned Tony Blair that there are "alarming" implications for the party in its defeat in the European Parliament elections held earlier this month.

The initial findings of Labour's inquest, leaked to The Independent, say the party's disastrous performance cannot be explained solely by Eurosceptism. It also blames the public's perception that the Government has not delivered its general election promises to improve public services.

Labour's verdict will undermine the party's attempts to dismiss the results as a "one-off". Writing in today's Tribune newspaper, Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, insists people did not bother to vote because they were "genuinely content with the overall direction and sense of purpose of the Government".

His claim is contradicted by the Labour report, which says there was "discernible disappointment amongst sections of Labour voters at what they see as the slow pace of change" since Mr Blair won power.

The confidential document was written by Greg Cook, the polling expert at Labour's Millbank headquarters, who will brief Labour MPs on his findings next Wednesday.

The report, entitled The Election That Never Was after the record low turn-out of 23 per cent, says that Labour was hit by the relatively higher turn-out of the over-55s and of the agricultural communities.

Mr Cook insists it was "a gross misrepresentation" to blame mass abstentions in Labour's traditional strongholds for the defeat, as someLabour MPs have done. The low turn-out was not only evident in the inner cities, but was "equally bad" in newly built housing estates, new towns and suburbia where Labour did well in the May local authority elections.

Although, Mr Cook says, it is "easy to forgive the Tories" for feeling satisfied with their Euro victory, the low turn-out heavily skewed the results. If there had been a 30 per cent turn-out, he calculates Labour would have won with 37 per cent of the vote, to the Tories' 35 per cent. With the 23 per cent turn-out the Tories captured 36 per cent to Labour's 28 per cent. "We have an election which utterly failed to register in the public consciousness and whose outcome became little more than a lottery," Mr Cook says.

He warns Labour it would be "foolish" to dismiss the idea that resentment against Europe was a factor in people abstaining or even defecting to other parties. But he concludes the real lesson is "the proportion of voters who voted out of duty and habit slipped to such a low level that the most anti-Labour sections of the electorate were able to exercise an influence out of all proportion to their true strength".

In future elections, he says, success may depend more and more upon effective local organisation. Inner city and industrial seats will be particularly vulnerable to fringe parties.

t Leaders of Britain In Europe, which supports the single currency, agreed yesterday to press ahead with their campaign launch next month. Some businessmen had urged a delay until the autumn following the European elections.