Exit polls: Blair wins third term
Beth Gardiner, Associated Press
May 5, 2005 BRIT0506
LONDON -— Tony Blair's Labour Party won an unprecedented third term in office but with a sharply reduced majority in Parliament that could set the stage for Blair to be replaced by a party rival, according to exit poll projections broadcast as vote counting began in Britain's national election Thursday.
With a 66-seat majority Blair could face difficulties controlling a faction of his party deeply disillusioned with his leadership, especially over the war in Iraq, and ready for a new prime minister such as Treasury chief Gordon Brown.
The BBC projected that Labour would win with 37 percent of the popular vote, the lowest winning share ever. The Conservatives, showing their first signs of life since losing power eight years ago, were projected to take 33 percent.
The BBC and ITV projections, based on a survey of 13,000 or more voters in 115 closely contested districts, suggested Labour would win 356 seats, ahead of the Conservatives with 209. The Liberal Democrats, the only major party to oppose the Iraq war, were projected to win 53 seats — for them a disappointing gain of two seats.
The projected victory was a comedown for Blair following landslides in 1997 and 2001. In the previous House of Commons, Labour had 161 more seats than the combined opposition.
Such a result matched the "bloody nose'' — a humiliation but not a defeat — that opponents had hoped to administer to the prime minister who took Britain into the divisive war in Iraq.
The government's strong economic record appears to have outweighed those resentments and help Labour secure a third term — a first for the party.
William Jones, a political analyst at Manchester University, said a 66-margin would make governing difficult for Blair.
"Anything under 100 he is in for a tough time,'' Jones said. "Under 50 he will be in terrible difficulties — I think we will see him disappear very quickly.''
Geoff Andrews, a political analyst at the Open University, said a group of about 50 rebellious lawmakers within the Labour Party could exercise greater influence.
"If Blair's majority falls below 60 then you are in an area where an organized minority would have a strong bargaining power.''
Counting in 645 Parliamentary districts was continuing through the night, and the winner would not be officially confirmed at least until Friday morning.
"There is going to be a Labour government, There is no doubt about that,'' Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott told the BBC. "I'm a little suspicious that it will be as low as you are suggesting.''