New Labour’s End?

In London, Tories Celebrate Another Win

Opinion | Matthias Wurz | June 2008

When the polls closed for the Local and London Authority elections in the UK at 10.00 pm GMT on May 1, it was clear that the governing Labour Party of Prime Minister Gordon Brown would suffer a heavy defeat. David Cameron was radiant: His Conservative Tory opposition would soon yet celebrate yet another success at the ballot box.

Soon it was confirmed: Labour had secured only 24% of the electorate of the 137 Local Authorities and reached only third place after the Liberal Democrats (25%), while the Tories clearly led with 40%.

But none of the parties was prepared for what unfolded in the early hours, when the votes were counted for London Mayor and the London Assembly. The controversial Conservative candidate Boris Johnson was chosen as London’s new mayor, succeeding after two terms the city’s first-ever elected mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Although the race was close, it was expected that Livingstone – former left-wing rebel who was elected in 2000 as an independent, and readmitted to the Labour Party in January 2004 – would still get his third term in office.

But with only 29.5% of the popular vote, he dropped well behind his Conservative challenger who carried the victory with 33.5%.

While David Cameron had seen the signs of change coming in national politics as soon as May 2010 – the latest possible time for the Prime Minister to call general elections – Gordon Brown admitted that the result had indeed been worse than he expected.

"Today’s polls suggest, though, that Brown may be in fact in the same position as John Major in 1995 - headed for defeat," concluded Nick Robinson, the Political Editor of the BBC, in his Newslog.

There were further political signs in May that Gordon Brown’s premiership – he took office in June 2007, succeeding Tony Blair as Labour Party Leader and Prime Minster – will indeed be short-lived indeed, when the Tories won the first parliamentary by-election since 1978 in Crewe and Nantwich (Cheshire), traditionally a safe parliamentary seat for Labour. Not surprisingly, Party Leader David Cameron announced the "end of New Labour."

"Just like in the local elections, just like in the London mayoralty election, thousands of people came to vote for the Conservative party for the first time," he said, "and my message to those people is: ‘We will not let you down.’ "

A rhetoric familiar from Tony Blair just over a decade ago, such language evidently still bares fruit with the British electorate, while the pressure on Gordon Brown increases and the first public calls within his own party were openly voiced.

Gordon Brown just doesn’t seem to chick with the electorate, and with him as leader, New Labour seems finally on the way out. The question for the Labour Party now seems only: Can they recover with someone else in 2010?

As Nick Robinson concludes: "By-elections don’t change governments. However, how parties react to by-elections can change governments."

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    the vienna review June 2008