Review of the year: Election 2005

A victory Labour couldn't savour

The general election of 05/05/05 was unusual in that it had no real winners. All three main parties emerged with a sense of disappointment from proceedings.

Labour's unprecedented third successive victory should have been a cause for a celebration. Historically, the party's overall majority of 66 was extremely healthy. But, after winning 160-plus majorities in 1997 and 2001, it didn't feel that way. Tony Blair had hoped for an 80-plus margin, which explained the rueful look on his face come election night.

After eight lean years, the Conservative Party finally made some progress under Michael Howard, gaining 33 seats. But not much. It increased its share of the vote by just 0.5 per cent to 32.4 per cent, ending up with only 198 MPs to Labour's 356.

Labour was lucky that the Liberal Democrats, not the Tories, were the main beneficiaries of the anti-Blair sentiment. The third party boosted its number of MPs from 52 to 62, the highest total since 1923. But, as the only major party to oppose an unpopular war in Iraq, it should have done better. Charles Kennedy hoped to win perhaps 80 seats; his party looked back on the 2005 election as a missed opportunity.

If there was a winner, it was Gordon Brown. The Prime Minister had tried to secure a third term without the Chancellor in his customary front-line role, calling in Alan Milburn to co-ordinate Labour's campaign. In the end, Blair's close advisers Alastair Campbell and Philip Gould advised him that he might lose without Brown by his side. So, after months of tension, the partnership was renewed for the campaign, and they maintained an impressive united front. In return for Brown's support, Blair guaranteed that he would remain at the Treasury in a third term. He also, in effect, had to anoint him as his successor. So the election marked the start of a perceptible shift in power from Blair to Brown.

Once the Chancellor was recalled, Labour's victory was never really in doubt. The real question was its majority, which shaped the campaign. The Tories denied adopting a "core vote" strategy in the hope of winning the following election. But it looked as though they were doing just that as they urged voters to "send a message" to Blair and "wipe the smile off his face."

Lynton Crosby, a campaign chief brought in from Australia by Mr Howard, imported so-called "dog whistle" tactics into mainstream British politics. Tory messages on asylum, immigration, crime and gypsy sites were designed to play on voters' fears. "Are you thinking what we're thinking?" Tory advertisements asked. The answer: only up to a point.

The problem was that the campaign reinforced the Tories' image as a "nasty party" that preached to the converted rather than reached out to floating voters. Howard did not mean to focus so heavily on immigration, arguing that the media made the issue run. But some Tories felt there were no more votes to be gained by banging on about immigration. Howard's protégé, David Cameron, the party's policy co-ordinator, warned that it was overshadowing other messages.

The Tories reaped no benefit from the controversy over Iraq, which Labour calculated "lost" it five campaigning days as details of the legal advice by the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith emerged. Although the issue highlighted the voters' lack of trust in Blair, the Tories were hamstrung by their support for the 2003 war. When they branded Blair a liar, it appeared to hurt them more than him.

Howard, who replaced the ousted Iain Duncan Smith just 18 months before the election, judged that it was too late to junk his policies. But the party's support for measures such as subsidising people who opt for private health treatment gave the impression that it stood for the few rather than the many.

Blair found himself on the defensive as never before. "Iraq and Blair" were inseparably linked in the public's mind, and Labour fretted about anti-war voters defecting to the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Respect - or just staying at home. Labour pollsters calculated that the party lost between 2 and 3 per cent of its support in the last week, mainly to the Liberal Democrats, because of Iraq. But it could have been worse: for other voters, Iraq was not a defining issue. They may have been dissatisfied with the progress in improving public services and worried by Brown's stealth taxes. But they were not ready to put their trust in the Tories, preferring the devil they knew.

Iraq, opposition to university tuition fees and plans to help pensioners all helped the Liberal Democrats appeal to disaffected Labour supporters. But it repositioned the centre party to the left of New Labour, even though it potentially stood to gain more seats from the Conservatives. In the event, Mr Kennedy's party made a net loss of three seats to the Tories. It was no surprise that a post-election battle broke out over the party's leadership.

Labour's 35.2 per cent share of the vote was the lowest ever for a party winning an overall majority, only 0.2 per cent more than Neil Kinnock won in the party's 1992 defeat. As his pollster, Philip Gould, told Blair in a private memo: "They [voters] felt that the records of Labour and Blair did not warrant another landslide and that the Conservatives were not yet ready for Government." So, despite the quirks and constraints of the first-past-the-post system, they got the result they wanted.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
'Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows' by John Constable
art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - London, £60k

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL DBA (SSIS, ETL) - Central London, £60,000...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Agent / QA Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an est...

Recruitment Genius: C# / XAML Developer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity for a talented...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness