Saturday, June 9, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Blair triumphs, Hague quits

London, June 8
British Prime Minister Tony Blair swept to his second landslide election win today, prompting beaten eurosceptic opposition leader William Hague to quit and intensifying speculation that Britain would soon join the euro.

Re-elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair smiles as he greets supporters on his arrival at Labour Party's headquarters in central London on Friday.
Re-elected British Prime Minister Tony Blair smiles as he greets supporters on his arrival at the Labour Party's headquarters in Central London on Friday.— Reuters photo

While the centre-left Labour Party celebrated Mr Blair as its most successful leader ever, Mr Hague’s Conservative Party was in disarray, facing weeks of a bruising leadership battle.

With nearly all seats decided, except 18 in Northern Ireland, Mr Blair embarked on his new five-year term with a majority of about 165 in the 659-seat House of Commons.

The victory anointed Mr Blair as Labour’s first Prime Minister in its 100-year history to secure what promises to be a second successive full term.

Within minutes of Mr Hague’s resignation, sterling fell more than half a cent to 15-year-lows against the dollar for the third day in a row on the belief that Britain would soon join the European single currency, and at a lower rate.

Mr Blair, who favours the euro in principle, has promised to put the issue to a referendum but must first convince the 70 per cent of the public who tell pollsters they are against.

Mr Blair told reporters outside his Downing Street residence, “We need to make changes so that we are engaged, exerting influence, having the self-belief not to turn our back on the world or retreat into isolationism.’’

His majority was slightly down on Labour’s 179-seat margin in 1997, when they inflicted the Conservatives’ biggest loss for a century-and-a-half.

That win ended 18 years of Conservative rule, under first Mrs Margaret Thatcher and then Mr John Major, who gave way to Mr Hague after his defeat.

Mr Blair, 48, wasted no time in getting down to business, announcing he would reshuffle his Cabinet to help usher in a new era that includes decisions on the euro in the next two years. It was a different story in the Conservative camp.

“I believe it is vital that the party be given the chance to choose a leader who can build on my work. I have, therefore, decided to step down as leader of the Conservative Party when a successor can be elected in the coming months,’’ Mr Hague said.

Echoing the speedy departure of his predecessor Mr Major, Mr Hague said it was “vital for leaders to listen and parties to change’’. In backing Mr Blair again, voters rejected Mr Hague’s attempt to make the election into a plebiscite on Labour’s plan to enter the European Union’s single currency.

Speculation grew that the next Conservative leader would take more account of euro-friendly heavyweights sidelined under Mr Hague and steer away from the right towards the middle ground.

Throughout the month-long campaign, the Conservatives seemed out of touch with voters, and the defeat drew a definitive line under the Thatcher era.

The 75-year-old former Prime Minister who ruled from 1979 to 1990 had campaigned ferociously against the euro.

But Mr Blair kept Europe off the top of the agenda, saying that Britons should decide the question in the referendum later.

Yet, Labour’s landslide was clouded by voter apathy. Turnout was about 60 per cent, which meant nearly 18 million eligible voters stayed at home. Reuters, PTIBack


All 7 British Asians elected
Shyam Bhatia

London, June 8
All seven British Asians who contested in Thursday’s elections have been elected to Parliament following the ruling Labour Party's landslide victory in the general election.

The success of electronic engineer Parmjit Dhanda and former Birmingham city councillor Khalid Mahmood — both Labour candidates — took the tally of Asians in Westminster to a total of seven from the earlier five.

Apart from Mahmood and Danda, the list includes incumbent MPs Keith Vaz, Leicester East, Mohammed Sarwar, Glasgow Govan, Marsha Singh, Bradford West, Piara Khabra, Ealing Southall, and Ashok Kumar, Middlesborough South and Cleveland East.

Europe Minister Vaz, who has been the victim of a relentless media campaign and the subject of two separate investigations into his business links, was returned from his constituency with a comfortable, albeit reduced majority of 13,442.

Soon after Conservative opposition leader William Hague conceded defeat this morning, Prime Minister Tony Blair told cheering Labour Party supporters, “The one thing we have to remember is that now is the time when the people of this country want us to serve them, and want us to do the things we promised to do.

“Our mandate is to carry on the work that we started. The policies and the foundations that we have laid over these past few years give us the ability now to complete the task that we’ve set ourselves.

“That task is governed by one simple principle which is the principle today’s party stands for: that we want a society and a nation where not just a few people at the top but every single person gets the chance to succeed. We will create that society. Through a political party that at long last offers this country a different political choice.

“For 100 years, we’ve been in government for short periods of time but never won a full second term of office. Now we have. That marriage of head and heart is what this party is all about.

“So let us get to our work, realise that in the next few years those expectations are there. We have to meet them, we have to work patiently, clearly, calmly, with determination and vigor to serve the people of this country.”

As the final votes were being counted today, Labour was forecast to win 414 seats, giving them a majority of 169 over their Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent rivals. In the last 1997 general elections, Labour had a 179 majority in the House of Commons.

Mr Hague described the result as “deeply disappointing” for the Conservatives and said, “We must respect the verdict of the voters and listen to what they have said. The Conservatives must review, redouble and intensify their efforts to provide an alternative government.”

Mr Blair is expected to announce a Cabinet reshuffle after he is formally tasked by Queen Elizabeth II to form the new government.

In spite of his party's predicted landslide, Mr Blair's victory is set against the lowest turnout of British voters since 1918. Only 59 per cent of the country’s eligible 40 million voters cast their ballots on Thursday.

One of the surprises of this election has been the comparative success of the far right and racist British National Party (BNP). The BNP failed to win a single seat, but it took political observers by surprise by attracting more than 11,000 votes in two Oldham constituencies near Manchester where there were violent race riots only 10 days before the elections.

Charles Kennedy said the Liberal Democrats had “built on the amazing breakthroughs of four years ago.” The Liberal Democrats have won another six seats, taking their total in Parliament up to 52.

Mr Kennedy hopes to provide a “relevant and responsible” opposition. “We have taken ourselves further forward across Britain as a whole and we are very much the party of the future for British politics. I think those politics will be better as a result.” IANS

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