British Election Unlikely to be Labour Landslide

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Despite many Britons' opposition to the Iraq war, Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party is all but assured of maintaining its majority in the House of Commons — though this election is unlikely to be a repeat of Labour's landslide victories in 1997 and 2001. British pollster Sir Robert Worcester discusses key issues in the election.

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. British pollster Sir Robert Worcester now joins us to discuss the election from London.

Hello.

Sir ROBERT WORCESTER (Pollster): Good morning there. Good afternoon here.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Thank you very much. Glad to have you join us. Not long ago, it looked like Tony Blair was in trouble. What changed?

Sir ROBERT: Well, I think people read too much into the system, because he could be level pegging, as the English would say, which means be, let's say, 37 percent for the Conservatives, 37 percent for Labor and 21 percent for the Liberal Democrats in this three-horse race, but he could still be looking at a 50-seat majority, which people like Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan would have given their right or left arms for, if not both.

MONTAGNE: Well, tell us a little about the issues and what's at stake here. You know, what has this been fought on in the end?

Sir ROBERT: The key issues have been the traditional issues of health service, the effectiveness of the national health service, a much-beloved institution in this country since it was first put in in the late '40s, early '50s. Education has been an important issue. Crime, law and order, as it is in most countries, has been an issue that has focused many people's minds, and this question of trust really roaming around the Iraq issue, but Iraq, as such, has not been an `issue' issue; it's been an image issue because it really destroyed the trust that British people had in the veracity, the truth-telling, or, to put it the way the Conservative leader did, Michael Howard, `a lie,' and that has got him down to 32 percent only who say they trust Tony Blair to tell the truth.

MONTAGNE: I gather that turnout was expected to be on the low side. So just what is the mood of the British public going into this election?

Sir ROBERT: The mood of the British public is consistent, as shown by the seven opinion polls that were published today, the field work for which most of them ended just yesterday. And that shows somewhere between a 90 and a 130 majority for Labor. But, of course, elections are won or lost in the marginals; as in the United States election, it was all about Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio. Now the same thing works here, but it works in a different way in that it works in parliamentary constituencies, and there are about 600 of those. And so it's broken down into finer gradation.

MONTAGNE: Right.

Sir ROBERT: So what's clearly at work is another Labor landslide.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us. Robert Worcester is chairman of the MORI polling agency, speaking to us from London. Thanks.

Sir ROBERT: Thank you.

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