It strikes me as odd that the media narrative still implies Tony Blair and New Labour were the most brilliant election winners in political history. The simple fact is they weren't. 1997 was a stunning victory, and they did achieve a healthy share of the vote for a three party political system (44.4%). However, like most things with New Labour, the superficially nice exterior hides a dreadful interior. I will examine each election in some depth to explain why I believe New Labour were abysmal election winners.
The landslide victory of 1997 was astonishing on many fronts. Labour achieved the largest swing towards them since 1945, measuring 10%. They won the largest number of seats in their history. They had achieved their largest ever majority. And they had routed the Conservative Party in Scotland, Wales and the North of England. In 1997, the Tories went from being a national party to the party of rural England. Labour achieved a 44.4% vote to the Tories' 32%. However, it was achieved on the lowest turnout since democracy came to Britain. It fell from 77.7% to 71.2%. The Tories lost 5 million voters, and only 2 million of those went to Labour. The Liberal Democrat vote fell. In 1979, the Conservative vote increased by 3 million. The Labour vote in 1997 increased by 2 million. However, it would be churlish to deny it was an incredible night for New Labour, and the country was indeed rejoicing at the arrival of a new government and the destruction of the old one. This was the high watermark of New Labour, and the warning signs were already there.
The 2001 general election was dubbed the 'quiet landslide.' Very few seats changed hands. The Tory vote declined by 1.4 million, although their share of the vote increased by a pathetic 1%. The Labour vote dropped by 2.8 million, and there share dropped by 2.5%. In one election, Labour had returned to the 1987 election in terms of its electoral support. Turnout collapsed to its lowest since 1918, equalling 59% of the electorate. Labour won 42% of the vote compared to 33% for the Conservative Party. But my Lord the turnout! This was the first election where more people didn't vote than voted for the winning party! The non vote won a landslide! Labour won 25% of the total electorate, whereas 41% didn't vote at all. This parliament had virtually no mandate to do what it did. In the words of Michael Foot, 'a seraglio of eunuchs.'
This was the lowest point in British democratic history, and a prime example of how Labour had butchered the boundaries of the constituencies to ensure it may rule in perpetuity. It achieved 36.2% of the vote to the 33.3% of the Tories, a difference of 2.9%. This gave them a majority of 66. On another very low turnout of 36%, the Labour Party had the parliamentary power to do what it wanted on the basis of only 20% of the eligible electorate. Was this the great election winning machine in operation? It must have been a very secretive machine. The Labour Party achieved majority power on the lowest vote share for a political party in British history. It was a lower vote share than Callaghan achieved in 1979, and only just above the vote share achieved by Kinnock in 1992. New Labour polled 9.5 million votes, lower than the 9.6 million polled by Major in 1997.
Was this a great election record? To achieve power on a pathetic number of votes for two elections? I'd like to hear a New Labour drone explain otherwise, but I doubt they could do it.