Labour Wins Landslide Victory
- Labour wins host of Tory seats, including Basildon
- Major congratulates Blair
- Tories wiped out in Scotland
- Bell ousts Hamilton in Tatton
The Labour Party has won a landslide victory in the general election, bringing eighteen years of Conservative rule to a spectacular end. Tony Blair now has the largest majority of any Labour government. The Labour win has transformed Britain's political landscape.
As dawn broke over in London, the Labour leader addressed a cheering crowd of Labour activists at the Royal Festival Hall. "The British people have put their trust in us. It is a moving and a humbing experience. We have been elected as New Labour and we will govern as New Labour," Mr Blair said.
For the Conservatives, the result is a disaster. A record six Cabinet members have lost their seats: Michael Portillo, Malcolm Rifkind, William Waldegrave, Michael Forsyth, Tony Newton and Ian Lang.
After winning his Huntingdon constituency, John Major said he had telephoned Tony Blair to congratulate him on Labour's national success. "He inherits a country in extremely good economic shape," Mr Major declared. He promised "vigorous opposition".
While Mr Blair spoke to the ecstatic crowd on the South Bank, Mr Major, looking solemn, spoke to a group of Conservative loyalists at Party Headquarters in Smith Square. "We'll have to regroup," he said. "To be in opposition as a party is an honourable way of life...We look back with some pride at the changes we have made to our country in the last eighteen years."
Labour's march to victory
Labour received an early confidence boost with the news that it had gained the key Birmingham Edgbaston seat from the Tories. The party overcame a Tory majority of 5,000 to win by a comfortable margin of 4,800.
That was soon followed by gains in other Labour targets. In Portsmouth North, the swing from the Tories to Labour was an astonishing 14 per cent.
In Basildon, held by the Tories since 1922, the swing to Labour was 15 per cent. Veteran Tory Nicholas Budgen was ousted in Wolverhampton South-West, where the swing to Labour was 10 per cent.
In Hove, normally a Conservative stronghold, Labour won with a majority of more than 4,000, while in Derbyshire South, Edwina Currie lost by more than 14,000 votes to her Labour Party challenger.
Labour also made history in other ways, with the first Muslim MP and the first gay man to declare his homosexuality before being elected to parliament.
The first London result brought more good cheer to Labour - a 10 per cent swing in Battersea. In Putney, Tory David Mellor lost his seat to the Labour Party, while the leader of the Referendum Party, Sir James Goldsmith, managed only 1,500 votes.
Tory cabinet decimated
The Conservative cabinet has fared extremely badly. Several ministers and senior figures failed to win their seats, including Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary and Michael Portillo, the Defence Secretary.
Gillian Shepherd: Re-elected but dejected
The Tory Party Chairman, Brian Mawhinney, told the BBC that the "British people had decided it was time for a change".
He congratulated Tony Blair and Labour on their success. "They have done well and we have not done well and we will need to reflect on that and the lessons that have emerged from it in the days that lie ahead," he said.
Dr Mawhinney acknowledged that tactical voting had been a major factor in the Tory defeat.
"All over the country it would seem that they looked for the candidate that had the best chance of ousting a Tory, and that's the way they voted," he said.
In Tatton, the former BBC reporter Martin Bell defeated the Tory at the centre of "cash for questions" scandal, Neil Hamilton, by more than 11,000 votes. He described his victory as a "political miracle". Mr Bell will serve as an independent.
Neil Hamilton was defeated by Martin Bell in Tatton
The Liberal Democrats have also performed well. They gained the Conservative safe seat of Southport with a majority of more than 6,000. Other gains included Sheffield Hallam and Weston-Super-Mare. The party could end up with more than 40 seats, the highest number for a third party since 1929.
In his victory speech in Yeovil, Paddy Ashdown spoke of a "new era" in British politics. When he arrived the party's Headquarters, the assembled crowd chanted "We Want Paddy!". "We will fight every second, every hour of the next parliament for the things we have campaigned for," Mr Ashdown told his supporters.
Analysis of the results indicate that the Tory push on the economy during the campaign failed to sway the voters. BBC figures show that the Tory vote is down 9 points in seats where house prices have risen least in the last five years and down 10 points in seats which have witnessed the sharpest fall in unemployment over the last year.
The turnout was put at just over 70 per cent - slightly down from 1992. One notable feature is that turnout seemed to be as high in Labour seats as in Conservative ones. This indicated that either Tory voters stayed away from the polls or that Labour supporters had turned out enthusiastically.
Blair: "I will not let you down"
In his victory speech at his Sedgefield constituency, the Labour leader, Tony Blair, spoke of a "real sense of pride" in creating "a Labour Party capable of offering that vision of renewal that our country needs". And he pledged: "I will not let you down".
The Labour Party's campaign director, Peter Mandelson, declared: "What swung it was New Labour...the rebirth of the Labour Party over the last two or three years finally clinched it for people." Gordon Brown, who will be appointed Chancellor under a Blair government, spoke of a "clear and decisive endorsement" of the Labour Party during his victory speech in his Dunfermline East constituency.
Signs of discontent surfaced quickly among the Tories. A Tory Reform Group news release blamed the "rank treachery of the Conservative right" for the Party's poor showing.