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Labour Party reels from electoral meltdown

Text by Fabien THELMA

Latest update : 2009-06-08

Britain's Labour Party is licking its wounds after a disastrous showing in the European elections. France 24's correspondent reports from a traditional Labour stronghold in south London to find out why voters are jumping ship.

East Street market in the south of London is a picturesque and popular market in the constituency of Camberwell and Peckham. Harriet Harman, Labour Leader of the House of Commons, is from this traditional Labour stronghold. In 2005, Ms. Harman won handsomely with 65% of the votes cast. But those days are gone. Now, Gordon Brown’s  allies are no longer welcome: "I voted Labour but I’ve gone to Liberal Democrats now," an old man admits. "I didn’t vote, because they’re all useless! They don’t do nothing now, do they?" says a shopper ironically. Others find the government’s meltdown quite entertaining: "I think people are just amazed at how quickly the government seems to be falling apart. Labour seems to be losing it quite badly and it makes for very good watching on TV!"

One party’s unpopularity is another party’s gain. Oliver Wooller is Chairman of the Conservative Association for the very same Constituency of Camberwell and Peckham.  He believes this slump of the Labour Party is the perfect opportunity for the Tories, and he can’t wait for the next general elections: "The fact that in this Labour heartland, people are prepared to consider alternatives should be a matter of despair for the Labour Party. If they cannot win here, they cannot win anywhere. So for us it is a great opportunity!"

And indeed, the Labour Party is in meltdown. The current expenses scandal engulfing British Members of Parliament has angered many voters. But it doesn’t fully explain the party’s huge unpopularity.  Rodney Barker, Professor of Government at LSE,  thinks other factors are also to blame: "If all we had was an expenses scandal, if all we had was a world economic crisis, or if all we had was a leader who can’t lead, or if all we had was a government which has been in for a long time, any one of those, a skillful government might be able to survive. It’s when they all come together, it’s like many things, lots of substances which are quite harmless by themselves, when mixed together are explosive and that’s what we have now."

This lethal mix plus the humiliating and historic defeat in the European elections could prove to be too explosive. With just over 15% of the share of the vote, the Labour Party has suffered its worst election result since the first World War. The question now is: how long can Gordon Brown hold on to power?
 

Date created : 2009-06-08