British Labour Party's 13 Years Under Leadership of Blair, Brown: Timeline
Gordon Brown said he is willing to resign as British prime minister and leader of the Labour Party, clearing the way for talks with the Liberal Democrats on forming a government. Here are some of the key events of Labour’s time in office.
May: Tony Blair wins a landslide 179-seat majority in the House of Commons, ending 18 years of Conservative rule. At 43, Blair becomes the youngest prime minister and moves his family into No. 10 Downing Street on May 2.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown gives the Bank of England independence to set interest rates. He breaks away its responsibility for supervising banks and announces the creation of a single financial regulator in the Financial Services Authority. The government vows to stick to the tight spending plans inherited from the Conservatives for two years.
August: Diana, Princess of Wales is killed in car crash in Paris. Blair’s tribute describes her as the “people’s princess.”
December: Northern Irish republicans Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness visit Blair at 10 Downing St. in London to discuss peace talks for the British province. McGuinness would later confirm he had been chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army, which had fired mortars at the building six years earlier.
April: Blair and his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern broker the Good Friday Agreement in which all parties in Northern Ireland commit to pursue political aims solely through peaceful means.
September: Devolution of powers transferred to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales after gaining approval in referenda.
March: Blair sends British jets to bomb Serbia as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led mission to force Slobodan Milosevic to cease hostilities against Kosovo. In the following months, Blair leads the argument for “liberal intervention” to stop human rights abuses.
April: U.K. minimum wage is introduced, at 3.60 pounds an hour, the equivalent of $5.75 at the time. Labour claims it lifted incomes for 1.5 million people.
July: Scottish Parliament opens, giving Scots direct control over health, education and policing for the first time in almost 300 years.
November: Parliament votes to reduce to 92 the number of members of the upper House of Lords who owe their seats to their noble birth.
May: Ken Livingstone becomes London Mayor, the first directly elected mayor in the U.K. Livingstone stood as an independent candidate, triggering his expulsion from the Labour Party until 2004.
September: Truck drivers blockade fuel refineries to protest high prices. Within five days, almost every gas station in the U.K. is dry, and supermarkets begin rationing bread and milk due to shortages and panic buying. The protests end after pleas from health bosses that lives are at risk, and hints from Blair that fuel duty will be cut.
November: The age of sexual consent for homosexuals is lowered to 16, the same as for heterosexuals. Blair’s government also introduces civil partnerships for gay couples.
May: Foot-and-mouth disease is detected at a slaughterhouse in southeast England. Over the coming months, almost 4 million animals will be slaughtered in the U.K.’s worst ever agricultural crisis. Blair is forced to delay local and national elections for a month until June.
June: Blair wins second term, with 167 seats more than opposition parties combined in the House of Commons.
September: Blair says Britain stands “shoulder to shoulder” with the U.S. after terrorists hijack four planes and attack New York and Washington, killing almost 3,000 people.
October: U.S. and U.K. forces strike al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan in response to Sept. 11 attacks and begin an occupation that continues to this day.
April: Wanless Review paves the way for Brown to increase a payroll tax to fund an expansion in the National Health Service. The rise in health spending is mirrored across other government departments, leading to a doubling in spending growth compared with levels under the Conservatives.
September: U.K. publishes a dossier of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In his foreword, Blair highlights a claim that Iraq has WMDs ready for use within 45 minutes of an order being given for their use.
March: Lawmakers in the House of Commons vote to back the invasion of Iraq, which begins on March 20. A third of Labour lawmakers rebel, and former Foreign Secretary Robin Cook resigns from Blair’s Cabinet in protest.
June: Brown says it’s not the right time to join the single European currency.
July: The body of David Kelly, a government weapons expert, is discovered. Kelly killed himself after being exposed as the source of a BBC Radio 4 report that the 2002 dossier on Iraqi weapons had been “sexed up” to add to the case for war. Blair announces a judicial inquiry, headed by Brian Hutton.
January: Hutton, a senior judge, clears the government of blame over Kelly’s death, criticizing the BBC over its editorial controls instead. BBC Director-General Greg Dyke quits.
September: Blair says he will run for a third full term as prime minister and stand down at the end of it. He also says he will be having a heart operation the following day.
October: Iraq Survey Group says Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion. Blair admits errors in intelligence in the build-up to the war.
May: Labour wins third term with a 66-seat majority as voters punish the government for the Iraq war. Michael Howard announces plans to step down as Conservative Party leader. He is replaced by David Cameron seven months later.
July: London is announced as the winner of the contest to host the 2012 Olympics. Blair, upon hearing the news, dances a jig on the lawn at Gleneagles, Scotland, where he’s preparing to host the summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. A day later, suicide bombers kill 52 and injure hundreds of people on London’s transport network.
March: Police say they will investigate complaints that Labour, as well as the Conservatives, broke the law by taking loans from supporters which were not declared. Some of those lending money to Labour were later nominated for seats in the House of Lords.
September: Following calls from lawmakers and the resignations of junior members of his government, Blair promises to retire within a year. Brown later denies involvement in any plot to oust Blair.
December: Blair becomes the first prime minister to be questioned by police in a criminal inquiry, as the cash-for- honors probe continues. He is questioned a second time on Jan. 26. His office says he is being treated as a witness, not a suspect.
May: Local and regional elections see Labour lose seats in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and local councils. The Scottish National Party, which campaigns for independence, is the largest party in the devolved parliament in Edinburgh and begins negotiations to form an administration.
June: Gordon Brown succeeds Blair as prime minister. Blair steps down as Labour’s longest-serving prime minister and the only Labour leader to win three elections for the party.
September: Northern Rock Plc seeks emergency funding from Bank of England as it becomes the first victim in the U.K. of the subprime mortgage crisis that begins spreading across the globe. Days later, customers line up outside Northern Rock branches to withdraw savings in the first run on a British bank in more than a century.
October: Brown allows speculation about an early election to grow, only to rule it out after a Conservative tax-cut pledge proves popular with voters. Cameron attacks Brown as indecisive and the Conservatives overtake Labour in opinion polls.
February: Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling nationalizes Northern Rock.
May: Labour loses control of the London mayoralty to the Conservatives and slumps to third place in local authority elections with 24 percent of the vote. A special election in Crewe and Nantwich, a seat Labour had held since World War II, sees the party defeated by the Conservatives.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling announces a 2.7 billion-pound emergency tax cut to compensate millions of poor households that lost out when Brown doubled the tax rate on the on the first 1,500 pounds of income. Labour lawmakers had threatened a parliamentary rebellion.
September: Bradford & Bingley Plc is split up after running into financing difficulties. The Treasury holds onto its mortgage book and its savings are sold to Banco Santander SA of Spain.
October: Following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in the U.S., Darling announces plans to use public money to bolster bank balance sheets. The Treasury pledges to underwrite debt issuance.
The Treasury takes stakes in Lloyds Banking Group Plc and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in a record 37 billion-pound bailout.
January: Darling announces a fresh wave of support for the banking system, giving the Bank of England powers to improve liquidity and opening an insurance progam to underwite toxic assets. At its peak, government support for the banking industry leaves taxpayers with liabilities worth 1.4 trillion pounds, almost a year’s economic output.
May: The Daily Telegraph newspaper begins publishing the details of taxpayer-funded expenses claimed by lawmakers, revealing abuses of second-home allowances, tax evasion and over-claiming for food and furnishings. Six ministers quit Brown’s government including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.
June: Brown resists attempts to unseat him after the worst local election defeat in three decades. Pensions Secretary James Purnell quits saying Brown should go and Labour lawmakers including Barry Sheerman, Graham Allen, Meg Munn and Paul Farrelly join his call. Europe minister Caroline Flint walks out, saying Brown treated her as “female window dressing.”
July: Chilcot Inquiry begins into the U.K.’s role in the Iraq War. Brown and Blair will testify at the hearing months later.
December: Darling announces plan to tax banks on all bonuses above 25,000 pounds at 50 percent.
February: U.K. prosecutors announce plans to charge four lawmakers with false accounting over their expenses claims. All plead not guilty at a court hearing in March.
April: Brown calls election for May 6. Midway through election campaign Brown is overheard calling Labour voter Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” after an encounter in Rochdale, northwest England.
The tax rate on incomes above 150,000 pounds is raised to 50 percent from 40 percent as Darling seeks to reduce Britain’s record budget deficit.
May: Labour slumps to second place in the general election with 29 percent of the vote, creating the first hung parliament since 1974.
The Conservatives, with 36 percent of the vote and the largest number of seats, begin talks with the third-party Liberal Democrats in an attempt to form a majority government.
Brown throws the negotiations into disarray by announcing the Liberal Democrats want to open formal talks with Labour and that he’ll resign as prime minister and Labour leader.