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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 September 2007, 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK
2005: Historic third term for Labour
Tony Blair and his family on the day after the general election
Con: 198 seats (32.3% share)
Lab: 356 seats (35.3% share)
Lib: 62 seats (22.1% share)

Tony Blair won a historic third term in government for Labour in 2005 but with a drastically reduced majority.

Mr Blair was the only Labour leader to have won three elections in a row but his margin of victory was less than half what it was in the Labour landslides of 1997 and 2001 - and he was left with the lowest share of the vote for a ruling party in modern times.

The Conservatives had mounted a strong challenge but their overall share of the vote was similar to 2001.

The Liberal Democrats made the largest gains of the three main parties, taking 22.1% of the share of the vote, up from 18.3% in 2001.

Mr Blair's style of leadership and the Iraq war were key factors in the fall in Labour votes - there was a significant swing from Labour to Lib Dem in most of the 40 seats with a large Muslim population.

The 2005 election also brought in more small party and Independent MPs than in any parliament since 1945, with wins for George Galloway in Bethnal Green, Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest and Peter Law, who quit Labour in protest at all-women shortlists.


In 2005 Labour was riding on a healthy economy and could boast extra spending on education and the National Health Service.

But Mr Blair's decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to widespread public disapproval.

February 2003 Stop the War demonstration
Intense opposition to the war in Iraq weakened Labour's majority

This deepened after the fall of Saddam Hussein when weapons of mass destruction were never found and serious questions were raised about reasons given for going to war.

By the time of the election, British troops were still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden was still at large and Tony Blair's credibility badly damaged.

The Hutton Inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly led to the resignation of the BBC's two senior figures, as it exonerated Mr Blair and his government over the death - but it failed to end doubts in many people's minds about the way the case for war with Iraq was put.

With this in mind, Labour went into the general election very much on the defensive.

The Conservatives were in full fighting spirit, no longer bogged down by divisions over Europe, and with a relatively new but highly experienced leader in Michael Howard.


When Labour began its long campaign for re-election at the start of the year, Gordon Brown was rarely seen.

His traditional place at the helm of Labour's election campaign was taken by Alan Milburn and the talk was all of public service reform.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown
Best of friends? Brown and Blair campaigned closely together

But by the time the campaign officially started, the economy was firmly centre stage and Brown and Blair were joined at the hip.

Their rekindled friendship found its fullest expression in Labour's first party election broadcast - a soft focus, almost romantic film by English Patient director Anthony Minghella.

Iraq dogged the prime minister throughout the campaign. The prime minister himself acknowledged the effect the war had had on his campaign during his victory speech.

He also spoke about the need to listen to people's concerns.

The Conservatives attacked Labour on several fronts - "uncontrolled" immigration, "dirty hospitals", "high taxes", "rising crime", "unbelievable" Blair, using the slogan "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"

But slogans like "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration" provoked accusations that the Tories were pandering to xenophobes.


Tony Blair won his longed-for third election victory and secured his place in history but it appeared that this time it was despite his being leader, rather than because of it.

While his popularity soared after the 11 September attacks, it plummeted two years later when he pushed ahead with the invasion of Iraq in the face of widespread opposition to it among the British public.

George Galloway and Oonah King
A surprise win for George Galloway who took Oonah King's seat
As soon as the 2005 election was over there was already talk of him standing down well before the next election and handing over to Gordon Brown.

Former Labour firebrand George Galloway's vehement anti-war stance was one of the highlights of the 2005 general election.

His successful and bitter single-issue campaign to oust Oona King from one of the most Muslim seats in the country - Bethnal Green and Bow in East London - secured his place in British political history.

Charles Kennedy and his Liberal Democrats had also opposed the Iraq war and Mr Kennedy's sometimes less politically polished style appeared to go down well with voters, as it had done in 2001.

Much was made of the fact that at his party's 2005 manifesto launch he was asked about the Lib Dems' local income tax, but seemed confused about the figures. His excuse was that his wife had given birth to their first child less than 24 hours previously and that he was suffering from lack of sleep.

But it prompted fresh rumours about his drinking and despite leading his party to its best showing for 80 years, in January 2006 he was forced to stand down as leader after a rebellion by a number of his frontbench team led to him admitting he had a drink problem.

Key issues

Iraq was the issue of the day and the Achilles heel of the incumbent prime minister. Many Labour party members felt uncomfortable about the war. Some, like Robin Cook, even resigned over it.

Michael Howard
The Conservatives focussed on the thorny issue of immigration

The Liberal Democrats were on safe ground as they had opposed the war from the very beginning. But the Conservatives had supported it so they concentrated on highlighting public distrust over Tony Blair's decision to go to war.

Michael Howard's main focus was the contentious issue of immigration, promising an annual limit, quotas for asylum seekers, a limit on work permits through an Australian-style points system and 24-hour security at ports.

The NHS was also a key debating point. Labour boasted they had cut waiting lists to a record low by 2004 - a key pledge in their 1997 manifesto.

Mr Howard played up the increase in MRSA infections in "dirty" hospitals.

Both main oppostion parties hoped to score points over Labour on tuition fees. Labour planned to treble fees from 2006 for English university students to fund an expansion of university places.

The Tories and Lib Dems would scrap fees, but the Tories would pay through higher interest charges on student loans, while the Lib Dems would increase income tax.

Prime Minister Tony Blair says he has "listened and learned"


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