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The United Kingdom general election, 2001 was held on Thursday 7 June 2001 to elect 659 members to the British House of Commons. It was dubbed "the quiet landslide" by the media, as the Labour Party was re-elected with another landslide result and only suffered a net loss of 6 seats. Tony Blair went on to become the first Labour Prime Minister to serve a full second consecutive term in office.
There was little change at all – outside Northern Ireland – with 620 out of 641 seats remaining unchanged. Labour boasted a strong economy, as well as having delivered on many key election pledges made in 1997. The Conservative Party, under William Hague's leadership, was still deeply divided on the issue of Europe and the party's policy platform was considered to have shifted to a right-wing focus. Hague was also hindered by a series of embarrassing publicity stunts, which overshadowed his talents as a skilled orator.
The election was essentially a repeat of the 1997 election, with Labour losing a mere 6 seats overall and the Conservatives making a net gain of 1 seat (gaining 9 seats, but losing 8). The Conservatives did manage to gain a seat in Scotland, which ended the party's status as an 'England-only' party in the 1997–2001 parliament. For the Liberal Democrats, success in the form of 6 new seats was achieved. Conservative leader William Hague resigned immediately, becoming the first Conservative leader since Austen Chamberlain to leave office without becoming Prime Minister.
Change was seen in Northern Ireland, with the moderately unionist Ulster Unionist Party losing 4 seats to the more hardline Democratic Unionist Party. This transition was mirrored in the republican community with the moderate SDLP losing votes to the more staunchly republican and abstentionist Sinn Féin. The election was also marked with exceptionally low voter turnout, falling below 60% for the first time in British history. The election was broadcast live on the BBC, and presented by Jeremy Paxman, Andrew Marr, Peter Snow and David Dimbleby.
The elections were marked by voter apathy, with turnout falling to 59.4%, the lowest since the Coupon Election of 1918. Throughout the election the Labour Party had maintained a significant lead in the opinion polls and the result was deemed to be so certain that some bookmakers paid out for a Labour majority before the election day. However, the opinion polls the previous autumn had shown the first Tory lead (though only by a narrow margin) in the opinion polls for eight years as the opposition benefited from the public anger towards the government over the fuel protests which had led to a severe shortage of motor fuel. By the end of 2000, however, the dispute had been solved and Labour were firmly back in the lead of the opinion polls.
In total, a mere 29 parliamentary seats changed hands at the 2001 election.
The election had been expected on 3 May, to coincide with local elections, but both were postponed because of rural movement restrictions imposed in response to a foot and mouth outbreak. One of the more noted events of a quiet campaign was when a countryside protester Craig Evans threw an egg at Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in Rhyl; Prescott then punched him and a struggle ensued, in front of television cameras. 2001 also saw the rare election of an independent. Dr. Richard Taylor of Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern (usually now known simply as "Health Concern") unseated a government minister. There was also a high vote for British National Party leader Nick Griffin in Oldham, in the wake of recent race riots in the town.
In Northern Ireland, the election was far more dramatic and marked a move by unionists away from support for the Good Friday Agreement, with the moderate unionist Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) losing to the more hardline Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). This polarisation was also seen in the nationalist community, with the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) vote losing out to more left-wing and republican Sinn Féin. It also saw a tightening of the parties as the small UK Unionist Party lost its only seat.
For Labour the last 4 years had run relatively smoothly. The party had successfully defended all their by-election seats, and many suspected a Labour win was inevitable from the start. Many in the party however were afraid of voter apathy, which was epitomised in the iconic "Thatcher in a wig" poster. Labour however could rely on a strong economy, putting to rest any fears of a Labour government putting the economic situation at risk.
For William Hague however the Conservative party had still not fully recovered from the loss in 1997. The party was still divided over Europe, and talk of a referendum on the Euro was rife. As Labour remained at the political centre the Tories inevitably moved to the right. A policy gaffe by Oliver Letwin over public spending cuts left the party with an own goal that Labour soon took advantage of. Margaret Thatcher also added to Hague's troubles when speaking out strongly against the Euro to applause. Hague himself, although a witty performer at PMQs, was dogged in the press and reminded of his speech at Conservative conference at the age of 16. The Sun newspaper only added to the Conservatives woes by backing Labour once again, calling Hague a "dead parrot"
For the Liberals, this was the first election for leader Charles Kennedy, who received a good amount of coverage and ultimately left the campaign for the better.
During the election, Sharron Storer, a resident of Birmingham, criticised Prime Minister Tony Blair in front of television cameras about conditions in the National Health Service. The widely-televised incident happened on 16 May during a campaign visit by Blair to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Sharron Storer's partner, Keith Sedgewick, a cancer patient with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and therefore highly susceptible to infection, was being treated at the time in the bone marrow unit, but no bed could be found for him and he was transferred to the casualty unit for his first 24 hours.
The election was effectively a repeat of 1997, as the Labour party vindicated the faith placed in it 4 years ago, and thus retained its overwhelming majority. Having presided over relatively serene political, economic and social conditions, the feeling of prosperity in the UK had been maintained into the new millennium, and Labour would have a free hand to assert its ideals in the subsequent parliament. Despite the victory, voter apathy was a major issue, as turnout fell below 60% for the first time in history, 12% down on 1997. All of the 3 main parties saw their total votes fall, with Labour's total vote dropping by 2.8 million on 1997, the Conservatives 1.3 million, and the Liberal Democrats 428,000. Some suggested this dramatic fall was a sign of the general acceptance of the status quo and the likelihood of Labour's majority remaining unassailable.
For the Conservatives' the huge loss they had sustained in 1997 was repeated. Despite gaining 9 seats the Tories lost 8 behind them to the Liberals Democrats and one even to Labour. The inevitable result was the speedy resignation of William Hague in the election aftermath. Some believed that Hague had been unlucky, although most considered him to be a talented orator and an intelligent statesman, he had come up against the charismatic Tony Blair in the pomp of his political career, and it was no surprise that little progress was made in reducing Labour's majority after a relatively smooth parliament. Staying at what they considered rock-bottom however showed that the Conservatives had failed to improve their negative public image, had remained somewhat disunited over Europe and had not regained the trust that they had lost in the 1990s.
The Liberal Democrats could point to steady progress under Charles Kennedy, gaining more seats than the main two parties – albeit only six overall – and maintaining the performance of a pleasing 1997 election, where the party doubled its number of seats from 20 to 46. While they had yet to become electable as a government, they underlined their growing reputation as a worthwhile alternative to Labour and Conservative, offering plenty of debate in parliament and not just representing a protest vote.
Meanwhile it was a disappointing night for the SNP, they failed to gain any seats and lost a seat to the Conservatives by just 79 votes. Plaid Cymru gained and lost a seat to Labour respectively. In Northern Ireland it was a poor night for the Ulster Unionists, and despite gaining North Down they lost 5 seats behind them.
|UK General Election 2001|
|Party||Standing||Elected||Gained||Unseated||Net||% of total||%||No.||Net %|
|Monster Raving Loony||15||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||6,655||0.0%|
|NI Women's Coalition||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||2,968||0.0%|
|Rock 'n' Roll Loony||7||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||2,634||N/A|
|Neath Port Talbot Ratepayers||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||1,960||N/A|
|Isle of Wight||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||1,164||N/A|
|Leeds Left Alliance||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||770||N/A|
|New Millennium Bean Party||1||0||0||0||0||0.0||0.0||727||N/A|
|Government's new majority||167|
|Total votes cast||26,368,204|
All parties with more than 500 votes shown.
The seat gains reflect changes on the 1997 general election result. Two seats had changed hands in by-elections in the intervening period. These were as follows:
The results of the election give a Gallagher index of dis-proportionality of 17.74.
|Seat||1997 election||Constituency result 2001 by party||2001 election|
|Belfast North||Ulster Unionist||Democratic Unionist gain|
|Carmarthen East and Dinefwr||Labour||4,912||13,540||2,815||16,130||656||Plaid Cymru gain|
|Castle Point||Labour||17,738||16,753||3,116||1273||Conservative gain|
|Cheadle||Conservative||18,444||6,086||18,477||599||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Chesterfield||Labour||3,613||18,663||21,249||437||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Dorset Mid and Poole North||Conservative||17,974||6,765||18,358||621||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Dorset South||Conservative||18,874||19,027||6,531||913||Labour gain|
|Fermanagh and South Tyrone||Ulster Unionist||Sinn Féin gain|
|Galloway and Upper Nithsdale||SNP||12,222||7,258||3,698||12,148||588||Conservative gain|
|Guildford||Conservative||19,820||6,558||20,358||736||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Isle of Wight||Liberal Democrat||25,223||9,676||22,397||2,106||Conservative gain|
|Londonderry East||Ulster Unionist||Democratic Unionist gain|
|Ludlow||Conservative||16,990||5,785||18,620||871||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Norfolk North||Conservative||23,495||7,490||23,978||649||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Norfolk North West||Labour||24,846||21,361||4,292||704||Conservative gain|
|North Down||UK Unionist||Ulster Unionist gain|
|Romsey||Conservative||20,386||3,986||22,756||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Strangford||Ulster Unionist||Democratic Unionist gain|
|Taunton||Liberal Democrat||23,033||8,254||22,798||1,140||Conservative gain|
|Teignbridge||Conservative||23,332||7,366||26,343||Liberal Democrat gain|
|Tyrone West||Ulster Unionist||Sinn Féin gain|
|Wyre Forest||Labour||9,350||10,857||28,487||Independent gain|
|Ynys Mon||Plaid Cymru||7,653||11,906||2,772||11,106||Labour gain|
|Party||Name||Constituency||Office held whilst in power||Year elected|
|Labour Party||Alan Wynne Williams||Carmarthen East and Dinefwr||1987|
|Christine Butler||Castle Point||1997|
|George Turner||Norfolk North West||1997|
|David Lock||Wyre Forest||1997|
|Conservative Party||Stephen Day||Cheadle||1987|
|Christopher Frazer||Mid Dorset and North Poole||1997|
|Ian Bruce||Dorset South||1987|
|Nick St Aubyn||Guildford||1997|
|David Prior||Norfolk North||1997|
|Liberal Democrats||Peter Brand||Isle of Wight||1997|
|Ulster Unionist Party||Willie Ross||East Londonderry||1974|
|Cecil Walker||North Belfast||1983|
|William Thompson||West Tyrone||1997|
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