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Friday, 1 June, 2001, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
In fear of a landslide
Britain is not a landslide country, said Tony Blair in 1997, shortly before winning the biggest post-war Commons majority. But should he fear another crushing victory for his party?
You might think the question of whether a Labour landslide were a good or bad prospect depends on one thing only - whether you support the party or not.
But is it that simple? Lady Thatcher has put Tory noses out of joint by suggesting Tony Blair could be in for another landslide victory at the coming general election. Such an event would be dangerous for Britain according to the former PM.
Landslides, the thinking goes, are not only bad for the losing parties, but for democracy as a whole.
A government with a massive House of Commons majority has almost free-reign to do what it wants, without heed to the checks and balances of backbenchers and opposition MPs.
In the words of Mrs Thatcher, a Labour landslide would lead to an "elective dictatorship".
She is not the only senior politician to make the point, in response to Labour's unwavering lead in the opinion polls. Recently, former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Roy Hattersley, has also warned against the dangers of a landslide for his side.
In electoral terms, there is no exact benchmark that determines what is or isn't a landslide. Labour's 179-seat majority in 1997 was called a landslide, as was Mrs Thatcher's in 1983, when the Tories notched up 144 seats more than the other parties.
But if Labour were to win by 160 seats on 7 June, would that be a landslide? And when the Conservative governments of the 1950s steadily upped their majority over three elections from 17 to 100 seats, the gradual climb seemed at odds with the idea of a sweeping landslide.
Whatever the maths, maybe Mr Blair does have something to fear from a swingeing victory.
Jobs for some
For a start, it would land him with a mass of backbench MPs to keep happy. The government can, at best, make 80 or so MPs into ministers and another maybe 40 into parliamentary private secretaries.
This is coupled with the belief that many of Labour's young MPs who were swept into the Commons in 1997 for the first time are no longer just pleased to be there. In a second term they may start making trouble and demanding more of their party leadership.
Labour's commanding win in the May 1997 was credited with scuppering some hopes for the creation of a project between Labour and the Lib Dems to establish a centre-left alliance.
And what would a Labour landslide mean for Mr Hague? The speculation has been that the Tory leader could be for the chop if he cannot substantially reduce Labour's Commons majority.
Hague's 'Kinnock factor'
But there are many in Labour who would rather he stayed. After all, Mr Hague has sometimes been described as Labour's best weapon because, despite his energy, many people claim he is unelectable. The same used to be said of Neil Kinnock.
Labour's crushing post-war victory, in the shape of leader Clement Atlee's 146-seat majority, came undone just six years later when Winston Churchill wrestled back power for the Conservatives.
And many believe that if Margaret Thatcher had won a slimmer majority in 1983 she would never have been able to create the Poll Tax, an act which contributed to her downfall.
There at least former Defence Secretary Francis Pym can afford to have the last laugh. In the run-up to the May election that year, Mr Pym cautioned against a landslide for his party under Mrs Thatcher.
The remark did not go down well and Pym was soon sidelined by the prime minister.
Which sheds an interesting light on her latest comments.
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