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1997: Labour routs Tories in historic election
The Labour Party has won the general election in a landslide victory, leaving the Conservatives in tatters after 18 years in power, with Scotland and Wales left devoid of Tory representation.

Labour now has a formidable 419 seats (including the speaker) - the largest the party has ever taken. The Conservatives took just 165, their worst performance since 1906.

Tony Blair - at 43 the youngest British prime minister this century - promised he would deliver "unity and purpose for the future".

John Major has resigned as Conservative leader, saying "When the curtain falls it's time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do."

Many prominent Tories lost their seats. They included:

  • Malcolm Rifkind, the foreign secretary,
  • Michael Portillo, the defence secretary,
  • Ian Lang, the trade and industry secretary,
  • Michael Forsyth, the Scottish secretary,
  • Sir Marcus Fox, until recently chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs,
  • former chancellor Norman Lamont
  • former national heritage secretary David Mellor.

Neil Hamilton, the former minister currently under investigation in the "cash-for-questions" affair, was routed by former BBC journalist Martin Bell, campaigning on an anti-sleaze platform.

Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown was triumphant on a day that saw his party win 46 seats, the best achievement for a third party in more than 60 years

When the curtain falls it's time to get off the stage and that is what I propose to do
John Major, outgoing Prime Minister
This afternoon Mr Blair announced the leading members of his first cabinet.

Gordon Brown is chancellor of the exchequer, Robin Cook is foreign secretary and Jack Straw, home secretary.

John Prescott will head a "super-ministry", combining parts of the departments of environment and transport, and will also act as deputy prime minister.

Many Tories blame their disastrous performance on internal divisions over whether to join the single European currency and a lengthy election campaign.

Labour held an election party last night at the Royal Festival Hall.

Tony Blair managed to snatch a few hours sleep before emerging from his Islington home just before midday with his wife Cherie to be greeted by neighbours and well-wishers.

Crowds lined the route waving flags as he was driven to Buckingham Palace for an audience with the Queen.

At around 1300BST he arrived at Downing Street packed with party workers and their children cheering and reaching out to shake Mr Blair's hand.

He told them: "For 18 years - 18 long years - my party has been in opposition. It could only say, it could not do.

"Today, we are charged with the deep responsibility of government. Today, enough of talking - it is time now to do."

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Watch/Listen
John Prescott and Tony Blair are congratulated by supporters
Tony Blair is about to become Britain's youngest prime minister this century

The Labour Party wins the 1997 General Election



In Context
After a heated contest, William Hague took the Conservative reins but he failed to boost the Tories' fortunes and Labour won again in 2001. Mr Hague resigned and Iain Duncan-Smith beat off Ken Clarke's challenge to become Conservative leader.

The Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown had close links with the government and formed a joint cabinet committee. Mr Ashdown stepped down as leader in 1999 and Charles Kennedy took the helm.

The "New Labour" government has been trying to raise standards in primary and secondary education, reforming the health service, social security system and the House of Lords.

It also devolved power to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and created an elected mayor for London.

On 5 May 2005, Mr Blair secured a historic third term for Labour, but with a drastically reduced majority.
Election facts
The landslide represented a swing of 10.3% from the Conservative to Labour

Tony Blair's victory had been achieved on the lowest turnout - 71.2% - since the war, and the party had taken a modest 43.2% share of the vote

New Labour had taken more votes from women, the young, and the working class, and had for the first time secured more of the votes of the middle classes and owner occupiers than the Tories

A record 120 women were voted into Parliament and dubbed by the tabloid papers as "Blair's Babes"

There were an unprecedented total of five women in Mr Blair's first Cabinet - Clare Short, Margaret Beckett, Harriet Harman, Mo Mowlam and Ann Taylor.

Stories From 2 May


 
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