Blair, Labour Expected to Win at British Polls
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Britons are voting today in an election that's expected to give Prime Minister Tony Blair a third consecutive term in office. His Labor Party is all but assured of maintaining its majority in the House of Commons, though this election is not likely to see a repeat of Labor's landslide victories in 1997 and 2001. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins me now from London.
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
MONTAGNE: A Blair win today would be the first time that a Labor leader has won three straight mandates, but the outcome is expected to be much closer than in the past.
KUHN: That's right. Blair's message in the past couple days is that what he fears is that people protesting the Iraq issue will give their votes to the third party, the Liberal Democrats or the Independents, and that will give the Conservatives a back-door victory. Now the polls as of this morning are showing Labor with a 3 to 6 percent lead, which is lower than it's been before. It's not a neck-and-neck race, but there is some margin there. What has to happen numerically is that there are 646 seats in the House of Commons, and whoever gets 324 of those seats gets to form the next government, and there would have to be quite a reversal of fortunes to get the Conservatives into power.
MONTAGNE: You just mentioned Iraq. How large has that loomed in this election?
KUHN: Well, if you look at the media, you think it were really a deciding factor. But then you look at the opinion polls, and you see that for most average Britons, it's way down there on the list, below the traditional issues of health, education, crime and things like that. But, you know, historically it is a defining feature of this campaign, and it is the major issue that's responsible for Tony Blair's decline in popularity since he took office.
MONTAGNE: And I gather turnout is not supposed to be terribly high for this election.
KUHN: That's correct. In '97, for example, we saw a 71 percent turnout, that dropped to 59 percent in 2001, and we're expecting even less this time and probably a pretty low turnout for young first-time voters. And this is important, because it would affect the parliamentary majority of whichever party's in power. Labor has had a majority of 167 seats, and that has given Blair a lot of power to push through his policies and has been a defining feature of his term in office. This time that majority is expected to be cut, perhaps to between the range of 60 to 120. And if it is in the lower end of that range, it's possible that Blair's final term--and he said this will be his final term--could be shorter than expected, and he could stand down sooner than the end of the term.
MONTAGNE: And is the British public, then, showing any enthusiasm for this election?
KUHN: Well, the word `apathy' has come up a lot in the media, but at the same time, polls show that people--it's not that people aren't interested in politics, they just feel that this has been a lackluster campaign and that the race just isn't close enough for their vote to make a big difference. And that's basically because the media has been saying for such a long time that Labor will win this third term.
MONTAGNE: Anthony, thanks very much.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn in London.
KUHN: Thanks, Renee.
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