Exit Polls Favor Blair in U.K. Election
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Exit polls in Britain indicate Prime Minister Tony Blair is headed for a third term. Voting has concluded in today's national election, and the official results are now starting to trickle in. If the exit polls are right, it would be the first time the Labor Party has won three consecutive elections. But the polls also suggest that the party will lose much of its majority in Parliament. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from London.
And, Anthony, what's the latest? What do the initial results seem to say?
ANTHONY KUHN reporting:
Well, last time I looked at the screens, we see that Labor has taken 25 constituencies; the Liberal Democrats, the third party in British politics, has taken two, and the Conservative Party has taken one. It' still early in the evening. There are a total of 324--whoever gets 324 seats first in the House of Commons will win. Also, we see a projected voter turnout of about 69 percent, which ranks similarly with what we've seen in post-war Britain. And generally the results that have come in so far seem to validate the exit polls that the BBC and ITV television have reported.
BLOCK: And those exit polls are showing that, as we said, Tony Blair will win, but the Liberal Party is doing not as well as they would have hoped. Their majority is shrinking dramatically.
KUHN: The Labor Party...
BLOCK: Labor Party, forgive me.
KUHN: Right. Well, people basically predicted that the majority would shrink from over 160 seats down to between 60 and 120, so it's the absolute bottom range of what people have predicted, and, therefore, it's not a great showing for Labor. Now it's a 5 percent loss for them, and even worse than that, it shows that they will be taking probably around 37 percent, which is the lowest share of the national vote for any winning party in British history.
BLOCK: We said that Tony Blair seems to have won a third term, but with this substantially reduced majority in Parliament, sounds like it could be an abbreviated term. There are already predictions of when Tony Blair will step down.
KUHN: That's right. The question is: Will the party feel that he's a liability, that he's become a lame duck? And we'll have to see how his reform programs fare in Parliament. He has about 50 members of Parliament who are opposed to a lot of his legislation, so with a 60-seat majority, he's not going to have a lot of leeway. And some of his initiatives on, for example, overhauling the National Health Service may get stuck in the Parliament.
It's not a hung Parliament, though, and it is a historically--you know, it's a margin that has--you know, that's within the bounds of historical precedence. The question, of course, is: When is his heir-apparent going to take over? That heir-apparent is Gordon Brown, his fellow Labor Party member and also finance minister. And Gordon Brown has been credited with a lot of the economic stewardship of Britain's economy in the past few years and the strong economic performance. And he isn't considered as tainted by the decision to go to war in Iraq as Prime Minister Tony Blair is.
BLOCK: This does seem to be a pretty dramatic turn of events for Tony Blair. He won landslides in the last two elections. How much do you figure that this reversal at the polls today is due to his support for the war in Iraq?
KUHN: There's no doubt that it is the most important factor in his loss of popularity following his two landslide victories. But I think every constituency is different, and there are some constituencies where Iraq was definitely a decisive issue and other constituencies where it really didn't matter that much. One thing I think we can look to is the third party, the Liberal Democrats, who are the only major party to run on an anti-war platform. And they are expected to pick up 3 percent or more of the vote. So the extent to which they did improve their showings, I think, will reflect sentiment on the Iraq issue.
BLOCK: And, very briefly, Anthony, we've talked about Labor and the Liberal Democrats. What about Conservatives or Tories.
KUHN: Well, this raises questions about, you know, whether they can even take the next election at the end of the decade. They're going to have to go back to the drawing board and reinvent themselves because this is a devastatingly poor showing for them.
BLOCK: NPR's Anthony Kuhn, thanks very much.
KUHN: Thank you.
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