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Will the UK move away from a two party system? Show more Show less
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British politics continues to be dominated by the Conservative and Labour Party, but with the emergence of smaller 'protest' parties and the dominance of the Scottish Nationalist Party in recent General Elections, is it realistic to believe that two party politics has a future in the UK?

The two party system is likely to remain Show more Show less

The Conservative and Labour Party will continue to be the only two parties that are able to form a UK-wide government.
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Two parties have always dominated UK politics

A majority of voters in the UK continue to voter for either the Conservative or the Labour Party in UK General Elections.
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Context

Since 1922, the British electorate has returned either a Conservative or Labour Government, leading many to conclude that British politics will continue to be dominated by a two-party system. However, rising levels of public disenchantment with the major parties has seen the popularity of smaller parties, including nationalists, grow. The electoral success of the Scottish Nationalist Party in Scotland and the Liberal Democrats/Brexit Party in the last European Elections have led some to doubt whether the future of the UK's two-party system.

The Argument

At the last UK General Election, in December 2019, three quarters of voters supported either the Labour or the Conservative Party. While the two parties collectively won 567 out of the 650 available seats in the House of Commons.[1] The result of the 2019 election is consistent with previous general elections where both parties have taken the lion share of votes and parliamentary seats. The majority of parliamentary seats changed hands between the two major parties,[2] providing further evidence of their electoral dominance and that voters are likely to opt between either the Conservatives or the Labour Party. Despite a period of time recently where in two general elections (2010 & 2017) neither party managed to secure a parliamentary majority, which forced the Conservatives to rely on the Liberal Democrats and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to form a government, the UK Government has been led by either a Conservative or Labour prime minister since 1922. In terms of party membership, both the Labour and Conservative Party continue to dominate. With the bulk of UK registered party members belonging to either of the main parties. Labour in particular has seen its membership as a proportion of the voting population jump from 0.4% in 2012 to 1.2% in 2017.[3]

Counter arguments

At the last General Election the vote share for the Labour Party fell compared to smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalist Party, and the Green Party, who all saw their vote share rise. Over 16% of the British electorate voted for a party that was neither the Conservatives nor the Labour Party.[4] In Scotland the Scottish Nationalist Party continue to dominate, winning 45% of the vote and 81% of the seats. The Conservative and Labour Party lost thirteen seats to the Scottish Nationalists between them at the last general election. The electoral success of the Scottish Nationalists makes it impossible to argue that the whole of the UK is dominated by two party politics, when both of the major parties continue to struggle against nationalism in Scotland.[5] Similarly, in Wales the nationalist party Plaid Cymru continues to be a regular fixture garnering nearly 10% of all votes and holding four parliamentary seats. As with Scotland, in Wales the two major parties also have to compete against nationalists which makes it far from a two horse race in some Welsh parliamentary seats.[6]

Premises

[P1] The voting behaviour of the British electorate in the last century is a roadmap for the voting behaviour in the next century. [P2] British voters have an innate tribal loyalty to the two major parties. [P3] The majority of UK parliamentary seats will continue to switch between the two major parties.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2 & P3] In Scotland voters are switching between the two major political parties to support the Scottish Nationalists.

References

  1. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8749
  2. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8749
  3. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN05125
  4. https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-8749
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results/scotland
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2019/results/wales

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This page was last edited on Friday, 17 Apr 2020 at 12:20 UTC