As expected, Tony Blair won a third term, but with a smaller parliamentary majority. Some of those seats were lost to the Liberal Democrats, who had their best election night in seventy-five years. As Patrcik Wintour and Anne Perkins observe in the Guardian, that should mean more challenges to Blair’s “Third Way” agenda from his left:
Tony Blair will have to overcome a newly influential leftwing in the Commons as he battles to legislate for identity cards, welfare reform and tightening of asylum laws, as he returns to power today with a reduced majority…Even with a majority of around 80 it takes only 40 Labour MPs to rebel, a commonplace in the second parliament, for the legislation to be thrown out. If the prime minister had had a smaller majority in the last parliament, according to the academic Philip Cowley, who monitors parliamentary revolts, Mr Blair would not have been able to push through university top-up fees (Labour rebellion 72) or foundation hospitals (rebellion 65). A fear of being held hostage by the Labour left in 1997 was one of the factors that prompted Mr Blair to have lengthy discussions about cooperation with the then Liberal Democrat leader, Paddy Ashdown. In the new parliament the option of a Lib Dem safety net, courtesy of Charles Kennedy, is not available.
…Leading leftwingers warned yesterday that they would not just oppose controversial New Labour policies, but also demand a new style of government. Some will also demand a rapid change of leader. Lynne Jones, the Labour candidate in Birmingham Selly Oak, said: “There’s been no time to talk, but there was some discussion at the end of the last parliament about launching a challenge.”…”No more privatisation in the public services,” said the former chairman of the Campaign Group, Alan Simpson. “We would push to bring troops back from Iraq when the UN mandate expires at the end of this year. There’ll be big opposition to any move to update Trident. And ID cards will divide people very, very substantially.”