Friday, May 06, 2005

It's Now The Real Story Starts.

I was sitting in the rather pleasant surrounding of Venice following the counting of the votes in the general election in the United Kingdiom.

It seems the result is one that leaves everyone slightly dissatisfied and no one really happy.

The Labour party had to accept a rather sizeable reduction in its parliamentary majority. If you look at absolute figures, only 22% of the electorate decided to go and cast their vote for Labour, which is the weakest support for any government in the UK in living memory.

But, in spite of all this, Labour did secure a third term in command of a majority in the House of Commons.

One might note, however, that during the Conservative "era" between 1979 and 1997, support for the government held up rather well until the collapse in the 1997 elections.

In the case of Labour, the elections since then has seen a gradual reduction in its support.

This has however not translated into support for the Conservatives. They do claim that they made gains, but in essence they failed. They seem to have mobilized their core supporters, but failed to attract very much else.

When I speak to UK business leaders - a number of them happen to be at the same event in Venice as I am - I find them uniformly taken aback by the raw tone in the Conservative campaign. These natural Conservative supporters have a very hard time seeing the Conservative party as their political home.

In one way, this is a good sign. The much too obvious effort to play at anti-immigrant sentiment simply did not work. Some of it was due to pre-emption by Labour, but a substantial part was due to people simply not wanting to associate themselves with these kinds of policies. Good.

Another good sign was the miserable showing of the fervently anti-European UK Independence Party. In essence, thet got nowhere. Good.

The the Labour party, we are now seeing the beginning of the end of the Blair era. If there is a Yes to the EU Constitutional Treaty in France on May 29th, and in the Netherlands on June 1st, everything will be geared to whether Blair can win the referendum in the UK likely a year from now.

But therafter - at the latest - it is likely to be another Labour part under another leader.

For the Conservatives, the next few months will be crucial. They just might decide to enter the modern world inhabited by modern, open-minded and outward-looking people. It will be a break with their recent past - but a necessary one if they are going to avoid the road to oblivion in the years to come.

The shape of the Labour party after Blair and whether the Conservatives get their act together and enter the modern world - these are the real stories out of the UK that will count in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, the sun sets over Venice...