The death of two parties ?

House Of Commons \ Credit: UK Parliament, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Trevor Fisher sees a significant reshaping of British party politics and a decline of trust being a major impediment to democratic politics

Whoever forms the government after July 4th, the big issue impending is the possible death of the two major parties dominant since 1945. The death of the one Nation Tory is almost inevitable, with Farage threatening to take over a viable party of the Right – copying developments in much of Europe. However, the more immediate issue despite Starmer’s likely securing of a parliamentary majority, though perhaps not a “supermajority”, is the weakness of Labour’s position despite attracting voters in droves.


For Labour, the issue to look for is tactical voting which mirrors a longer run trend – the decline of big party loyalty. Tactical voting may obscure the weakness of a Labour majority in parliament. It appears hostility to the Tory Party’s failures over fourteen
years is driving many voters to vote tactically. Best for Britain on June 22nd revealed that a third of voters in 558 seats were prepared to vote tactically to change the government. In 234 seats this jumps to 40%. For Labour and the Lib Dems the key data from BFB is the fact one in five say voting Labour is purely tactical, for Lib Dems it’s one in three. This suggests, if the voters turn out and vote, Labour and the Lib Dems will gain the MP numbers they have lacked since 2015, but without a real mandate to carry out policies. Starmer is right to say the scale of the political crisis will need a ten year period to fix, but the chances of winning two elections are minimal. The need is for voters to give him the time – but this is not being made clear and the priorities are not stated. Farage is preparing for a 2029 assault on Number 10. Without a clear strategy to build support and undermine the populist bandwagon he may get his wish.

David Cowling on June 25th drew attention to the growth of minority parties, the big three securing massive votes through the C20th. He showed the share of the vote going to the Liberal/Lib Dem, Labour and Tory Parties held other parties to a total of 7% from 1900 to 1997 – with only 6.6% in 1918 at the end of World War One the exception. From 1997 when minor parties totalled 7.0% it has never been less than 6.5%, reaching 23.1% in 2015 partly due to Miliband losing Scotland to the SNP. In 2017, Corbyn and May revived two party politics, and the minor party percentage was 10.5% in 2019 when the Brexit Party withdrew from Tory seats to avoid splitting the Brexit vote. Reform UK
now seems intent on punishing the Tories for 2019. By mid June the average for non big three party votes had returned to 2015 levels
mirroring the pre Brexit poll situation. At 24-30% polls showed considerable reluctance to vote for the Big three, though with a decline in the SNP vote in Scotalnd the pattern is affected by regional variations and Ulster may be under represented in the polls. But it is clear that the dominant parties of the C20th now struggle to keep the minor party votes low.

The British Social Attitudes Survey conducted by the National Centre for Social Research showed declining trust in politicians, particularly among Brexit voters. Brexit is no longer a feature of the policy debate but has over ridden the classic economic divisions by raising identity and cultural issues to equal bread and butter issues. A record 45% told the Survey they ‘almost never’ believe governments of any party
were focused on the challenges facing the UK, up from the previous record of 40% in 2009 at the time of the MP expenses scandal. Since then the scandal of MPs and apparatchiks betting on the date of the election and other betting issues will have made trust even less likely to be on offer. As I wrote the final version of this, Ipsos Mori announced that 83% of voters are unhappy with the way the government is running the country. This is the highest total since 1979, in the winter of discontent. |Sunak should suffer the consequences of this, but Labour has little cause for triumphalism. On July 4 th the big issues are not just on who is elected and who forms the government,
but who bothers to vote and what they expect for their vote if they do go to ballot.

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