Ten years from now the political landscape could look radically differentby Peter Kellner / May 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
Britain’s two-party system is in intensive care; can it be revived? Before exploring the possibilities for the future, let’s examine the clues provided by recent history and the operation of the first-past-the-post voting system.
Last week saw the fifth elections to the European Parliament fought in Britain under the (roughly) proportional d’Hondt voting system. The following table shows how Labour and the Conservatives fared in each election, compared with their support in the following general election.
Those figures tell us two big things. The first is that there is little relationship between European election performance and support at the subsequent general election. Second, after each of the last three European Parliament elections, the combined support of the two parties climbed around 20 points at the following general election, from 43-49 per cent to 66-69 per cent.
Last week, of course, the combined vote of the two parties crashed to just 23 per cent. If the pattern of the past 15 years is repeated, their combined share would rise to no more than 43-46 per cent. The two-party system would be in deep, possibly terminal, trouble.
Is that likely? If we have an autumn election, with Brexit not sorted, then plainly the Brexit Party could capture millions of traditional Tory votes. As in 2015, when Ukip won four million votes but only one seat, Nigel Farage’s party may have few, if any, MPs in the new parliament; but it may win enough votes in Tory-Labour marginals to cost the Conservatives victory.
However, it will be not only the Tories whose future would be at risk in an autumn election. Last week’s election showed Labour suffering at the hands of the Liberal Democrats and Greens. Had Jeremy Corbyn campaigned strongly for a People’s Vote, Labour would have done far better. Hence the signs since the election that Corbyn may now back a fresh referendum, shorn of the qualifications that have muddied the picture until now.
Would this do the trick? Probably; but it would need Corbyn to campaign for a referendum with enthusiasm. His half-hearted contribution to the Remain cause in 2016 arguably contributed to the cause’s defeat. If he advocates a People’s Vote with the enthusiasm of a hostage forced to read out statement that his captors…