Saturday 22 June 2024

Two party politics is dead


The result of the election promises to be both strange and familiar, because it has already happened here and recently. The solution to the democratic problem will be the same because it has already happened here and still more recently.

In 2015 the SNP won all but three of the seats in the General Election in Scotland and this dominance has continued in every General Election since then up to now. The opposition could not compete with an SNP that was winning around 45% of the vote because it was divided almost equally. The Conservatives and Lib Dems are strong in certain parts of Scotland but could not broaden their support beyond that. Labour too could not return to its previously dominant position in the Central Belt.

It looked as if Pro UK Scottish parties would never be able to beat the SNP, because each had similar levels of support and it was politically impossible for them to merge to form one united Pro UK party. Any sort of merger or even formal pact with the Conservatives would be toxic in Scotland and would help the SNP by enabling it to say that Labour and the Lib Dems were collaborating with the wicked Tories.

Pro UK people tried to change the situation by means of tactical voting, but in each of the elections from 2015 to 2019 this did not achieve the result of the defeating the SNP. It worked in some seats, but not enough to defeat the SNP.

What is different this time is that one of the Pro UK parties has because of Sturgeon’s resignation and the chaos that followed been able to reach parity in terms of share of the vote with the SNP. Once that was achieved it became obvious to every Pro UK voter that Labour in Scotland was the means to defeat the SNP. The case for tactically voting has become enhanced, because it has become more obvious that voting Conservative or Lib Dem in Labour’s target seats is pointless.

This was the solution to a divided opposition. The task was not to merge the Pro UK parties it was for one of them to become dominant.

The UK situation is likely to be analogous to what happened in Scotland in 2015 and the years following.

Labour may win around 40% of the vote and win nearly all of the seats. The Conservatives may win around 20% of the seats, with Reform winning around 20% too with the Lib Dems rather less. But all together they may win not much more than 100 seats with Reform winning hardly any.

This has happened before of course. It is in the nature of First Past the Post to produce landslides. But the result of the present election is likely to be more lopsided than usual. The official opposition may have less than 60 seats, the government may have more than 500 seats. Even when Blair and Thatcher won landslides the opposition was still significant.

The Lib Dems are always going to plod along gaining between 20 and 50 seats because when Labour is a social democratic party there is no reason to vote Lib Dem as the two parties agree on almost everything. A Lib Dem opposition would not be an opposition at all.

The right as represented by the Conservatives and Reform may achieve together around 40% of the vote and could surpass Labour’s share while still winning only 50-60 seats.

This is a dangerous moment for the right, but also for Labour. If it misinterprets an enormous majority as a sign that it can do anything or that it need not govern for the majority that did not vote Labour, then Labour could equally go the way of the Conservatives after it won a majority of 80 in 2019.

I am not concerned about the idea that Labour will be in power for decades as it need not be so. Just as the Conservatives could lose a majority in 5 years so can Labour.

The right has to choose one or other of Reform or the Conservatives or else merge. The danger is that it wastes election after election just as the Pro UK parties did in Scotland before the public decides which is to be dominant. If this happens then Labour will keep winning just as the SNP did.

There are advantages in ditching the Conservative brand because its history makes it unelectable in parts of the country especially in Scotland. Reform are not Tories because it does not have the history that the Conservative Party has. The Conservative Party has the advantage of a long track record of electoral success, but also a track record of managing decline and an unwillingness to be a properly free market party that decisively rejects social democracy.

If the Conservative Party elects a one nation Tory wet to lead it after the election, then it will be clear that it is incapable of learning. Capitalism works, social democracy largely does not. The message to the Conservatives is be a proper right wing alternative to Labour and the Lib Dems or else perish and deserve to perish.

If Reform wishes to take over from the Conservatives, it will need to be both radical and sensible. It will need to resist extreme solutions and to remain within the mainstream traditions of Thatcherism. A genuinely right-wing party arguing that it will do what it takes to reduce migration to 100,000 per year while promising to cut taxes and the size of the state, could defeat Labour at the next election no matter how big Labour’s majority. This message was popular and election winning in the 1980s. It can be again.

I am not worried about the scale of Labour’s victory. It will be a price worth paying to defeat the SNP and securing the unity of our country.  It won’t be a dictatorship, because we will have the chance to kick out Labour too in 5 years.

But let’s take it one step at a time. If you are a Pro UK person living in Scotland first do what you can to kick out the SNP, then reflect on the overall vote and what that means for the future. One thing is clear. The previous two-party system is dead and something else must emerge.

In a democracy when the results so radically do not reflect the results of the voters leaving one party on 50 seats and the other on 500 you can be quite certain that radical change will follow. It will have to.

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