LONDON - The invasion of Iraq rebounded a little on the government of British
Prime Minister Tony Blair to dent his majority as he returned to a third term
as prime minister.
But it was not serious damage. Iraq did not prevent Blair from returning with
a comfortable enough majority, and this is the first time in its history that
a Labour government has been reelected for a third successive term.
Nonetheless, Iraq was still an issue, and it came home to Blair in his own
constituency Sedgefield. The incumbent prime minister was challenged by an independent
candidate Reg Keys, whose son was killed during the Iraq war.
Blair got 24,421 votes, and Keys 4,252. That means that for every six votes
Blair got, Keys got at least one. Compared to the last general election in 2001,
the votes for Blair dropped by about six percent. A member of the Blair campaign
team Derek Cattel had quit midway through the campaign to support Keys.
"I know Iraq has been a divisive issue," Blair said as he was announced
winner. "I hope we can unite again and look to the future, there and here."
The remark seemed an indication that despite the opposition over Iraq he ran
into, he intended to stay the controversial course.
Keys came up to the stage in Sedgefield to explain why he had contested. "I
would have grieved and not campaigned if that war had been fought under international
law," he said. "I would have grieved and not campaigned if weapons
of mass destruction had been found in Iraq."
Keys added: "I am hoping in my heart that one day the prime minister will
be able to say sorry."
If Keys was a constant reminder of Iraq to Blair through his election campaign
in his constituency, he faces far more formidable opposition in parliament through
George Galloway, who beat the Labour candidate in the Bethnal Green constituency
For Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party for what the party described
as his support for Saddam Hussein, Iraq was the key issue. He got much support
through his campaign from the very large number of Muslim voters in the constituency.
Galloway is certain to confront Blair through his third term over Iraq, and
Galloway is nothing if not strident, as he showed in his victory speech.
"Mr. Blair, this is for Iraq, and all your other defeats your Labour Party
has suffered this day is [sic] for Iraq. All the people you have killed, and
all the lies that you've told have come back to haunt you. The best thing you
can do is to resign."
The only political party that had opposed the invasion of Iraq, the Liberal
Democrats, saw their votes go up 3.9 percent from 22.6 percent in 2001. The
percentage of Labour votes dropped 5.8 percent to 36.4 percent. The Conservatives,
who firmly backed the invasion of Iraq, got 33.1 percent of the vote, a small
gain of 0.6 percent over 2001.
The Liberal Democrat gain did not, however, translate into a proportionate
rise in the number of members of parliament. In Britain's first-past-the-post
system in which the winner is the one with the plurality of votes, votes won
are often not reflected in seats gained.
With 619 of 646 seats declared, Labour had 353, losing 47 in relation to the
last parliament. The Conservative Party had 195, a gain of 33, and the Liberal
Democrats had 59, a gain of 11 seats.
The significance of Iraq surfaced through the election results. During the
campaign, it was one among several issues that came up and subsided. The Liberal
Democrats claimed they had got it right on Iraq, and the Conservatives attacked
Blair over what they called lies over the invasion. But there was little indication
how far people were going to think about the invasion when they voted.
Labour is believed to have lost many votes and seats in constituencies with
a high Muslim population such as Bethnal Green and in constituencies
with a high number of students. Both these groups were at the forefront of the
Blair said that his new government will take on board the verdict of the people,
reflected in some loss of support for his party. But that is not expected to
lead to any sudden or significant change in his Iraq policy.