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The United Kingdom general election of 2005 was held on Thursday, 5 May 2005 to elect members to the House of Commonsmarker.

The Labour Party under Tony Blair won its third consecutive victory, but with a reduced overall majority of 66 and they failed to gain any new seats. Blair's decline in popularity was largely attributed to the decision to send British troops to invade Iraq in 2003.

The 2005 election also saw Britain gain more independent and small party members of parliament than it had done for 60 years.

The general election took place in 646 constituencies across the United Kingdom, under the first-past-the-post system, for seats in the House of Commons. All but one constituency polled on 5 May; the South Staffordshire vote was postponed and took place on 23 June due to the death of a candidate. For details by constituency, see 2005 general election results.

Local elections in parts of Englandmarker and in Northern Irelandmarker were held on the same day. The polls were open for fifteen hours, from 07:00 to 22:00 BST (UTC+1). The election came just over three weeks after the dissolution of Parliamentmarker on 11 April by Queen Elizabeth II, at the request of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Results

Votes summary

The percentage of votes gained


Seats summary

Overview

A map showing the constituency winners of the UK General Elections by their party colours.


The governing Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, was looking to secure a third consecutive term in office and to retain a large majority. The Conservative Party was seeking to regain seats lost to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats since the 1992 General Election, and move from being the Official Opposition into government. The Liberal Democrats hoped to make gains from both main parties, but especially the Conservative Party, with a "decapitation" strategy targeting members of the Shadow Cabinet. The Lib Dems had also wished to become the governing party, but more realistically hoped of making enough gains to become the Official Opposition and/or play a major part in a parliament led by a minority Labour or Conservative government. In Northern Ireland the Democratic Unionist Party sought to make further gains over the Ulster Unionist Party in unionist politics, and Sinn Féin hoped to overtake the Social Democratic and Labour Party in nationalist politics. (Note that Sinn Féin MPs do not take their seats in the House of Commonsmarker -- they refuse to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen as required). The pro-independence Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru (Party of Wales) stood candidates in every constituency in Scotland and Wales respectively.

Many seats were contested by other parties, including several parties without incumbents in the House of Commons. Parties that were not represented at Westminster, but had seats in the devolved assemblies and European Parliamentmarker included the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Green Party, and the Scottish Socialist Party. The Health Concern party stood again as well. A full list of parties which declared their intention to run can be found on the list of parties contesting the 2005 general election.

All parties campaigned through such tools as party manifestos, party political broadcasts and touring the country in what are commonly referred to as battle buses.

Reduction of the number of seats in Scotland

Several years after the Scottish Parliamentmarker had been established by the Scotland Act 1998, the target electorate (population) size of Westminster Parliamentary seats in Scotlandmarker was adjusted to bring it in line with Englandmarker's constituencies. Before this reform Scotland had a smaller target electoral size per constituency resulting in more seats per head of population, which had been intended to compensate Scotland for its status as a nation, its lower population density (which causes very large constituencies geographically), its distance from the seat of Parliament in Westminster and finally, because prior to 1999 Scottish law had been wholly determined by the Westminster Parliament. These problems were perceived to have been addressed with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.



The Boundary Commission for Scotland therefore produced a plan in 2003 in which there would be 59 constituencies, reduced from 72. In 2004, Parliament passed the Scottish Parliament Act 2004 which instituted these changes and broke the link between British and Scottish Parliamentary constituencies.

Three constituencies were left unchanged — the island seats of Orkney and Shetlandmarker, the Western Islesmarker, though the latter changed its official name to the Gaelic "Na h-Eileanan an Iar", and Eastwood, which changed its name to "East Renfrewshire". Several other new constituency names were also implemented; in all these cases the new seats had altered boundaries.

Predicted result of redrawn boundaries

Although it was impossible to guarantee a wholly accurate prediction of the strength of the parties within the 59 new Scottish constituencies, estimates had been made prior to the poll on 5 May on the basis of a ward-by-ward breakdown of local council election results. An agreed set used by all media reports and most political commentators suggested that had the new boundaries been in effect in the 2001 election, Labour would have won forty-six seats, the Liberal Democrats nine, the Scottish National Party four, and the Conservatives none. This would have represented a loss of ten seats for Labour and one each for the Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party and the Conservatives. The arithmetic was however complicated by the fact that the boundary revision had produced some seats that were notionally highly marginal.

The results of the 2005 election showed some of the highest changes of the share of the vote for particular parties occurring in Scottish seats, leading some commentators to speculate that either the notional results were in error and/or they were unable to take into account factors such as tactical voting and people voting differently between General and Local Elections.

Actual result of redrawn boundaries

Labour won 41 seats, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Scottish National Party six, and in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddalemarker the Conservatives won their only Scottish seat. Compared to the actual results of 2001 this meant a loss of fourteen seats for Labour, a gain of one seat for the SNP and Liberal Democrats, and no change for the Conservatives.

See also the list of parties standing in Scotland.

Ballot



At the close of voting (2200 BST) the ballot boxes were sealed and returned to the counting centre where counting proceeded under the supervision of the returning officer who was obliged to declare the result as soon as it was known. As previously, there was serious competition amongst constituencies to be first to declare. Sunderland Southmarker repeated its performance in the last three elections and declared Labour incumbent Chris Mullin re-elected as MP with a majority of 11,059 at approximately 2245 BST (failing by two minutes to beat its previous best, but making it eligible for entry into the Guinness Book of World Records as longest consecutive delivery of first results). The vote itself represented a swing (in a safe Labour seat, in a safe Labour region) of approximately 4% to the Conservatives and 4.5% to the Liberal Democrats, somewhat below the prediction of BBC/ITV exit polls published shortly after 2200 BST.

Sunderland Northmarker was the next to declare, followed by Houghton & Washington Eastmarker, both Labour holds but with reductions in the incumbent majorities of up to 9%. The first Scottish seat to declare was Rutherglen and Hamilton Westmarker — another safe Labour seat, also a Labour hold, but with the majority reduced by 4%. The first seat to change hands was Putneymarker, where Labour's majority of around 2,500 fell to a strong Conservative challenge, with a total swing of about 5,000 (6.2%). This was also the first seat to be declared for the Conservatives. The first Liberal Democrat seat to be declared was North East Fife, the constituency of LibDem party deputy leader Sir Menzies Campbell which he has held since 1987.

The Constituency of Crawleymarker in West Sussexmarker had the slimmest majority of any seat with Labour holding off the Conservatives by 37 votes after three recounts.

Exit polls

Following problems with exit polls in previous British elections, the BBC and ITV agreed for the first time to pool their respective data, using results from Mori and NOP. More than twenty thousand people were interviewed for the poll at one hundred and twenty polling stations across the country. The predictions were very accurate -- initial projections saw the Labour party returned to power with a majority of 66 (down from 160), and the final result (including Staffordshire South, where the election was postponed due to the death of a candidate) would indeed be a Labour majority of 66.

The projected shares of the vote on mainland Britain were Labour 37% (down 4% on 2001), Conservatives 33% (unchanged), Liberal Democrats 22% (up 3%) and other parties 8% (up 2%). The Conservatives were expected to make the biggest gains, however — forty-four seats according to the exit numbers — with the Liberal Democrats expected to take as few as two. Whilst the exit-poll-predicted vote share for the Lib Dems was accurate (22.6% vs an actual 22.0%), they had actually done better in some Lib Dem-Labour marginals than predicted on the basis of the national share of the vote, producing a net gain of 11 seats.

Election results

Votes cast by age group: Con, Lab, LD, other parties (green) and those not voting (grey).


At 04:28 BST, it was announced that Labour had won Corbymarker, giving them 324 seats in the House of Commons out of those then declared and an overall majority, Labour's total reaching 356 seats out of the 646 House of Commons seats. Labour received 35.3% of the popular vote, equating to approximately 22% of the electorate on a 61.3% turnout, up from 59.4% turnout in 2001. Increased turnout was mostly attributed to the extension and promotion of the postal voting system, which has however been criticised by many as being too insecure increasing the risk of Electoral fraud.

As expected, voter disenchantment led to an increase of support for many opposition parties, and caused many eligible to vote, not to turnout. Labour achieved a third successive term in office for the first time in their history, though with reduction of the Labour majority from 163 to 67 (as it was before the declaration of South Staffordshire). As it became clear that Labour had won an overall majority, Michael Howard, the leader of the Conservative party, announced his intention to retire from front-line politics. The final seat to declare was the delayed poll in South Staffordshire, at just after 1 a.m. on Friday 24 June.

The election was followed by further criticism of the UK electoral system. Calls for reform came particularly from Lib Dem supporters, citing that they received only just over 10% of the overall seats with 22.3% of the popular vote. The only parties to win a higher percentage of seats than they achieved in votes were Labour, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Féin, and Health Concern, which ran only one candidate. The results of the election give a Gallagher index of dis-proportionality of 16.76.

Interpretation of result

Seats won in the election (outer ring) against number of votes (inner ring).


The Labour Government claimed that being returned to office for a third term for the first time ever showed the remarkable achievements of New Labour and the continued unpopularity of the Conservatives. Nevertheless, Labour's vote declined to 35.3%, the lowest share of the popular vote to have formed a majority government in the history of the UK House of Commons.

The Conservatives claimed that their increased number of seats showed disenchantment with the Labour government and was a precursor of a Conservative breakthrough at the next election. Following three consecutive elections of declining representation and then in 2001 a net gain of just one seat, 2005 was the first General Election since 1983 where the number of Conservative seats increased appreciably, although the Conservatives' vote share increased only slightly and this election did mark the third successive General Election in which the Conservatives polled below 35%.

The Liberal Democrats claimed that their continued gradual increase in seats and percentage vote showed they were in a position to make further gains from both parties. They pointed in particular to the fact that they were now in second place in roughly one hundred and ninety constituencies and that having had net losses to Labour in the 1992 General Election and having not taken a single seat off Labour in 1997, they had held their gains off Labour from the 2001 General Election and had actually made further gains from them.

The Liberal Democrats increased their percentage of the vote by 3.7%, the Conservatives by 0.6%, and Labour's dropped by 5.4%. Most seats lost by Labour changed to the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats suffered a net loss of two seats to the Conservative Party, possibly because of Lib Dem voters' tactical unwind.

The results were interpreted by the UK media as an indicator of a breakdown in trust in the government, and in Prime Minister Tony Blair in particular.

It was the first General Election since 1929 that no party received more than ten million votes. It was the most "three-cornered" election since 1923, though the Liberal Democrats failed to match the higher national votes of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in the 1980s either in absolute or percentage terms. The total combined vote for Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats proved to be the lowest main three party vote since 1922.

England

The average Labour vote in England declined by approximately 7% and by varying amounts in every English Region, but with sharp variations locally. The Labour vote fell sharply in safe Labour seats and in areas with large Muslim populations, yet a few constituencies saw slight Labour increases. In particular, the Labour vote declined dramatically in the northern half of London, where 11% of voters abandoned Labour for other parties and in Bethnal Green and Bow, Londonmarker, former Labour MP George Galloway, running as a candidate for the anti-war Respect, defeated Oona King (Labour) who in the previous General Election had a majority of 10,057. Following the result, a hostile interview with Jeremy Paxman attracted press attention. Labour lost the fewest votes in South West England, only 2.5% -- but Labour's vote in South West England is historically poor. Notably, the Labour Party failed to take a single seat from another party. Labour polled seventy thousand fewer votes in England than the Conservatives, yet won ninety-two more seats, attributed to the smaller average electorate in urban (usually pro-Labour) constituencies.

Labour regained one of its by-election losses, Leicester Southmarker, but saw an increased Liberal Democrat majority in the other, Brent Eastmarker.

The Conservatives made gains in most regions of England, though their vote declined in some areas, notably East Midlands and Yorkshiremarker (2% and 1.5% declines, respectively). However, even in regions where the Conservative vote declined, the Labour vote declined by a greater margin, allowing the Conservatives to make gains against Labour. Overall, the Conservatives gained approximately 1% of the vote in England from 2001. In Enfield Southgatemarker, Conservative David Burrowes ousted Labour Stephen Twigg, who had famously defeated Michael Portillo for that seat in the 1997 elections.

The Liberal Democrats made modest gains in all regions of England, improving by at least 1% in every region. No particular region showed greatly expanded support for the Liberal Democrats though, continuing the trend of approximately equal showings in all regions of England for them and their "decapitation policy" that targeted Conservative front-benchers failed, removing only Tim Collins in Westmorland and Lonsdalemarker.

Former BBC presenter, Robert Kilroy-Silk, who had joined the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) before leaving to set up Veritas, came fourth in Erewashmarker in what was the best performance by Veritas, receiving 2,957 votes. The seat was taken by Labour's Liz Blackman.

There were also regional surges in support for the British National Party, who however failed to win any seats, their highest poll being 16.9% in the Labour stronghold of Barkingmarker, East London.

Scotland

Results in Scotland for Labour were also down, though less so than in England. Labour lost approximately 4% of the vote in East Scotland and approximately 6% of the vote in West Scotland. Labour's vote declined the most in the Edinburghmarker area and in the north of Scotland (where Labour lost all of its rural seats).

The Conservative vote declined marginally in both East and West Scotland, but the Conservatives nonetheless managed to win a seat in the South (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddalemarker), so maintaining their one Scottish seat in the Westminster Parliament. Having once been the largest party in Scotland (most recently in 1959), the 2001 and 2005 General Elections have done very little to reverse the downward trend that culminated in the 1997 loss of all eleven Conservative seats.

The Liberal Democrats made gains against Labour in both regions of Scotland and picked up a modest number of seats. On average, their vote rose approximately 5% across Scotland, though again this translated into few gains as the Liberal Democrat vote was not particularly concentrated.

The Scottish National Party's vote declined slightly across Scotland, but they managed to win one rural and one urban seat from Labour.

Wales

The Labour Party lost approximately 6% of the vote across Wales, with losses varying by region. However, Labour managed to mitigate their losses in losing only six seats. The Conservatives returned MPs from Wales for the first time since 1997 with three Welsh seats on a slightly increased share of the vote. The Liberal Democrats also improved their share of the vote slightly and won two additional seats, one from Labour and one from Plaid Cymru. Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, saw a slight decline in its vote, losing a seat to the Liberal Democrats.

Peter Law, standing as an independent candidate in protest at the imposition of an all-female candidate shortlist by the national Labour Party, managed to overturn a Labour majority of 19,313 to win Blaenau Gwent.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Irelandmarker, the election was dominated in the unionist community by a battle between the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). In the nationalist community, the contest was largely between the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) and Sinn Féin.

The DUP and Sinn Féin emerged as the largest unionist and nationalist parties respectively, at the expense of the UUP and SDLP who both stood on a platform more favourable towards the Labour government's position on power sharing in Northern Ireland devolution. The UUP fared particularly badly, with leader David Trimble losing Upper Bann and resigning as party leader on 7 May, and the party's representation reduced to one seat, North Down, held by Sylvia Hermon continuing a trend of consolidation of the Unionist, especially UUP support to the DUP. Although the UUP won more MPs at the 2001 General Election, the defection of Lagan Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson to the DUP in January 2004 had already reversed the position.

The results of the 2005 general election in Northern Ireland, compared against the previous two Westminster elections.
This shows the considerable gains by the DUP and Sinn Féin largely at the expense of the UUP.


In the nationalist community, elections since 1992 have shown a clear shift in support from the SDLP to Sinn Féin. Two of the three SDLP MPs elected in 2001 had retired, while all four of the Sinn Féin MPs stood again. Sinn Féin's victory over the SDLP in Newry and Armagh, giving it a fifth seat, reduced the number of Northern Ireland MPs at Westminster as Sinn Féin members do not take their Westminster seats. The largest surprise in Northern Ireland came in South Belfast where the SDLP won the traditionally unionist seat, aided by a split between the two main unionist parties. This, together with their retention of two other seats did much to boost the SDLP's fortunes and morale when many commentators had been predicting a disaster as great as that which met the UUP.

See also the list of parties standing in Northern Ireland.

Formation of the government

Following the election result, Labour remained in power and Tony Blair remained Prime Minister, reshuffling government positions over the following weekend, with formal announcements made on 9 May 2005. The most senior positions of Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary remained the same, but a few new faces were added; most notably David Blunkett returned to cabinet as the Work and Pensions Secretary, although he was forced to resign again due to another scandal before the end of the year that spawned a national press and opposition campaign for his dismissal. Patricia Hewitt became the new Health Secretary, Tessa Jowell remained as Culture Secretary, whilst Alan Johnson was promoted to Trade and Industry Secretary. In other moves Ruth Kelly retained the Education job and Margaret Beckett stayed put at Environment.

The new Parliament met on 11 May for the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

New party leaders

On 6 May Michael Howard announced he would be standing down as leader of the Conservative Party, but not before a review of the leadership rules. The formal leadership election began in October, and was ultimately won by David Cameron. See Conservative Party leadership election, 2005. The following day David Trimble resigned as leader of the Ulster Unionist Party. His successor, Sir Reg Empey, was elected at the meeting of the Ulster Unionist Council on 24 June. See Ulster Unionist Party leadership election, 2005.

End of the term

Assuming that the law is not changed, the term of the 2005 Parliament will end on or before 10 May 2010. The delay in the time of year from the date of the end of the previous Parliament to this date is due to administrative procedures after the gathering of the Parliament. The last conceivable day upon which the next General Election could take place is 3 June 2010, and indications are growing, though not confirmed, that 6 May 2010 is the most likely date for the next General Election.

References



External links



Manifestos




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