Landslide for Labor in Britain

LONDON — In one of the biggest electoral earthquakes in British political history, Tony Blair’s Labor Party swept to power with a landslide victory in Thursday’s general election.

At 43, Blair will be the youngest British prime minister of the 20th century. The election outcome was widely predicted by polls throughout the six-week campaign, and the final margin will be Britain’s largest in 150 years.

BBC and ITN television news exit pollsgave Labor a huge majority in the House of Commons, ending 18 years of Conservative rule —first under “Iron Lady”‘ Margaret Thatcher, then under current Prime Minister John Major — that transformed Britain.

ITN projected that Labor would have a majority of 159 seats in the 659-seat House of Commons.

The BBC, whose polls gave Labor 47% support with 29% for the Conservatives and 18% for the center-left Liberal Democrats, said the majority could be nearer to 200.

For the British entertainment industry, the arrival of a Labor government will not mean an immediate revolution. That’s largely because Blair’s team did not offer much in the way of detailed media policies during the election, beyond making general statements about placing a high importance on the arts.

The film industry will be hoping that its long campaign for tax breaks to aid production will meet a more sympathetic reception from Labor than it did from the Conservatives, especially with veteran producer Sir David Puttnam wielding considerable influence within Labor.

Structural changes due

But Puttnam himself warns not to expect more cash for film from the incoming government. “I don’t think the level of public resources will change, but the level of engagement by the government will change,” he told Daily Variety. “The change will be with the structures of public institutions. I will be very surprised if Labor left all the structures in place. They will comb through them to see if they can work more efficiently.”

One obvious candidate for reform is the Arts Council, which Labor has hinted that it wants to revamp. This may indirectly affect the way it handles the investment of national lottery revenues into British film production. Additionally Labor has indicated that it wants to see a higher proportion of lottery cash spent on such areas as health and education, and that could mean a squeeze on lottery funding for the arts.

One commitment Labor has made is to rejoin Eurimages, the European co-production fund, which the Conservatives withdrew Britain from last year. Labor, however, is likely to demand reform of the Eurimages system as a condition of its re-entry. The new government is likely in general to be more inclined than the old one was to cooperate in pan-European policy initiatives.

In broadcasting, Blair has given a written guarantee that he will not seek to privatize Channel 4. It remains to be seen what Labor’s attitude will be toward the BBC’s increasing diversification into commercial ventures in order to support its core public broadcasting activities.

The Labor government is planning to further loosen restrictions on the cross-ownership of newspapers and TV stations, abolishing the rule which prevents newspaper groups that control more than 20% of national readership from owning an ITV station. That would allow the Mirror Group and Rupert Murdoch’s News Intl. to move into terrestrial TV.

Labor is also proposing a new combined watchdog for media and telecommunications, dubbed Ofcom.

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