On April 5th 2005, Prime Minister Tony Blair went to Buckingham Palace to request that the queen dissolve Parliament and that a general election be held. This she did. Blair then announced that the general election would be on May 5th.

There had been some general electioneering and quasi-campaigning before the announcement of May 5th.

Such issues as the alleged £35 billion cut in public spending by the Conservatives, as claimed by Labour, have caused political tension as has the de-selection of the Tory MP Howard Flight, the Deputy Party Chairman, by Michael Howard. From the Conservative viewpoint, the admission that intelligence failings meant there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has caused the Labour government much embarrassment and provoked claims that the Prime Minister cannot be trusted..

Polls issued on April 5th but before Blair announced the date of the election, show that the 9% lead that Labour had when the 2001 election was announced has now been seriously eroded.

Polls for April 5th:

A NOP poll for the ‘Independent’:

Labour 33%, Conservatives 34%, Liberal Democrats 21% and Others 10%

A Populus poll for ‘The Times’:

Labour 37%, Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 19% and Others 9%

A MORI poll for the ‘Financial Times’:

Labour 34%, Conservatives 39%, Liberal Democrats 21% and Others 6%

An ICM poll for the ‘Guardian’:

Labour 37%, Conservatives 34%, Liberal Democrats 21% and Others 8%

Therefore, on the day the election was announced, April 5th, the average support for the main parties was:

Labour: 35%
Conservatives: 35%
Liberal Democrats: 20%
Others: 10%

For the Labour Party this is a drop from 2001 while the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are starting in a stronger position than at the last general election – according to the first polls for the 2005 election.

The same polls also indicate that Labour are ahead on the twin issues of education and health whereas the Conservatives are ahead on crime and asylum issues.

The first major poll to be issued since the announcement of the election came on April 8th when the ‘Daily Telegraph’ published the results of a ‘YouGov’ poll. This showed:

Labour 36%, Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 21%, Others 8%

The same poll showed that of those polled, 68% thought the long term issue of pensions was an area not being well targeted by politicians and 55% thought the same with the Council Tax. 34% thought that Tony Blair would  be the best Prime Minister while 26% thought that Michael Howard would be – 24% did not know.

Campaigning on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th April was suspended out of a mark of respect for Pope John Paul II’s funeral in Rome on the Friday and the wedding between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in Windsor on the Saturday.

The first full week of campaigning started on Monday April 11th. At the start of the week, Labour made a better showing in the polls.

ICM had the following:

Labour 38%, Conservatives 33%, Liberal Democrats 22%, Others 7%

The above poll was taken after the announcement of the closure of the MG Rover factory at Longbridge. During the weekend, the government offered the company £100 million to tie it over until talks with Shanghai Automotives were finalised.

MORI had the following result:

Labour 40%, Conservatives 33%, Liberal Democrats 19%, Others 8%

 NOP found the following:

Labour 36%, Conservatives 33%, Liberal Democrats 21%, Others 10%

Populus found the following:

Labour 37%, Conservatives 35%, Liberal Democrats 19%, Others 9%

YouGov found the following:

Labour 36%, Conservatives 36%, Liberal Democrats 20%, Others 8%

At the start of the first full week of campaigning, the average support as indicated in these polls is:

Labour: 37%
Conservatives: 34%
Liberal Democrats: 20%
Others: 8%

By mid-week (April 13th), the average support had changed to:

Labour: 38%
Conservatives: 33.5%
Liberal Democrats: 20.5%
Others: 8%

Using the 2001 result as a comparison, such figures would approximately give the following results in the Commons:

Labour: 385 MP’s
Conservatives: 183 MP’s
Liberal Democrats: 53 MP’s
Others: 25 MP’s

Such a result would give Labour a Parliamentary majority of 124.

By Sunday 24th, the average in the polls was:

Labour: 38%
Conservatives: 33%
Liberal Democrats: 21%
Others: 8%

In the days immediately before the election on May 5th, the polls generally showed a late ‘surge’ by Labour up to a steady 40% while one poll put the Conservatives at 29% – though the common trend was for the Conservatives to be at 32/33%. The Liberal Democrats stayed relatively steady at 21/22%.

On election night, the BBC and ITV produced a combined exit poll based on the voting intentions of 16,000 people. When the doors of the polling stations were shut at 22.00, the results were announced – a Labour victory with a majority of about 65 seats. If this panned out, then Labour would still have a healthy Parliamentary majority in statistical terms but a loss of about 100 seats would have been seen as a major blow by some in the party – and possibly a commentary of Blair’s leadership.

By the end of May 6th, the majority of results had been announced and proved that the exit poll was astonishingly accurate.

The result:

Labour 355 MP’s Down 57 seats
Conservatives 197 MP’s Up 31 seats
Liberal Democrats 62 MP’s Up 10 seats
Others 32 MP’s

The result gave Labour a Parliamentary majority of 66. It also produced some interesting statistics:

Labour’s percentage of votes – at 36% (down by 5% from 2001) – is the lowest any winning party has ever achieved.

More people voted for the Conservatives in England than for Labour – but the Conservatives won 92 seats less than Labour within England (285 to 193). The Conservatives received 60,000 more votes than Labour in England.

There was an overall turnout of 61% – up 2% from 2001. But this still means that 1/3rd of those registered to vote did not do so. More people opted not to vote (38.7%) than voted for Labour (36%).

Labour’s share of the total possible electorate was 22%.

Labour got 55% of the seats but 36% of the votes cast

The Conservatives got 30% of the seats but 33% of the votes cast

The Liberal Democrats got 10% of the seats but 22% of the votes cast.

Both the Electoral Reform Society and ‘Make Votes Count’ expressed their concern that democracy within the UK was being severely diluted by the continued use of the ‘first-past-the-post’ system.

“The British first-past-the-post electoral system has reduced the general election to a travesty of democracy. How can any government back by one in four or five electors conceivably claim any sort of valid democratic mandate?”David Lipsey, ‘Make Votes Count’