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EDITIONS
News Monday, 14 June, 1999, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Labour postmortem begins
Labour scenes after the 1997 general election...not repeated this year
Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted the gains the Conservatives made in the European election will cost them in long-term support.

In an address from the Downing Street rose garden, Mr Blair provided an upbeat assessment of his party's disastrous showing.

But behind the scenes, the Labour inquest into its showing has begun, with the prime minister meeting officials and strategists to determine what went so badly wrong.

Tony Blair: Fewer reasons to be cheerful
The party had expected to lose votes under the advent of a UK-wide proportional representation system, but not to such a grave extent.

Mr Blair said: "Obviously these are very disappointing results. I don't pretend otherwise. We've got to listen and reflect on the lessons.

"In part the turnout was very poor indeed. Fewer than one in four people voted in these elections and that is something we need to reflect on too."

But he attacked Conservative leader William Hague for mounting a campaign based on hostility towards the European single currency.

"The Conservatives have become a single-issue party," Mr Blair said.

"I said a week ago it would bring them short-term political gain, but it's not in the interests of the Conservative Party and it's not in the interests of the country."

The prime minister said he did not accept criticism of Labour's campaign, which sought to avoid the issue of the euro.

"It's important n the issue of the euro for people to understand that they will have a specific vote in the referendum," he said.

Return of Mandelson

Margaret Beckett, Leader of the Commons, has taken the initial brunt of attacks over Labour's performance and is tipped to be sacked as Labour's campaign co-ordinator.

She has been heavily criticised for taking a week's holiday in France during the campaign.

Margaret Beckett: Tipped to take the fall for the disastrous campaign
Although admitting the results were "disappointing", Ms Beckett herself blames the difficulty on getting the message across on a media absorbed with Kosovo.

Similarly, the prime minister has faced internal criticism for his role. Busy with Kosovo abroad, his involvement in the UK campaign was decidedly low-key, and he has been urged to ensure a higher profile in future.

The poor campaign may have paved the way for a return to government of Peter Mandelson, the former trade secretary, who resigned in December following the disclosure of a loan from then Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson.

Cabinet ministers have called for Mr Blair to ask the spin doctor, who masterminded the campaign preceding Labour's landslide victory in the 1997 general election, to be given back his job.

One source was reported in a broadsheet newspaper on Monday as saying: "We did not have a strategy. Peter would have given us a strategy."

PR criticism

Other MPs called for a change in the system of proportional representation (PR), used for the first time for a national election in the European polls and under consideration by the government for further elections.

Some want Mandelson to return to campaigning
On Sunday a poll for BBC One's On the Record showed an apparent big shift amongst Labour MPs against PR.

Last September, a poll by the programme of 150 MPs found that 58% backed the new system of PR. The same poll ran on Sunday showed that just 43% now backed it, with the majority wanting a return to the first-past-the-post system.

Stuart Bell, the chairman of Labour's first-past-the-post group, said the manifesto commitment to a referendum on PR should be ditched.

"PR was supposed to keep the Tories out of power for a generation. Instead it has achieved the miracle of an election boost for William Hague," he said.

Listening to voters

Senior ministers have also called for a campaign to educate an apathetic public on the importance of Europe.

Cabinet Office Minister Jack Cunningham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme "lessons should be learned" about "motivating and listening to people".

"We need to work to bring home to people how important events in the European Union, and how important the European Parliament and its decisions are to them and their everyday lives," he said.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook agreed: "The electorate do not yet connect the European Parliament with their daily lives," he said.

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See also:

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