Prior to the May 2015 general election, a lot of obituaries on the two-party system in Britain were written. I recall reading somewhere that the moon striking the Earth in the next few weeks was more likely than one party forming a majority government. The age of coalitions was, apparently, here to stay.
But then the moon came down on us. We woke up on May 8th to a Tory majority government. More than that, the Lib Dems were left with eight seats, the Greens failed to pick any seats up at all, and UKIP actually lost one to go down to a single MP. The only counterbalance to this was the SNP taking almost all of the seats in Scotland, but that was more a localised issue in that particular nation as opposed to pluralism bursting forth.
So now we are faced with precisely the reverse situation we thought we had at the start of May: is the age of multi-party politics dead before it really had a chance to fully live? Let’s look at the major players.
For now, UKIP have nowhere to go. But that could change quickly post-EU referendum if the UK votes to remain in. Paul Nutall takes over as leader and they reposition themselves as an anti-austerity, English nationalist party, trying to attract working class voters annoyed at the “stitch-up”. So they could gain seats off Labour, particularly a Corbyn-led Labour Party. But if Farage remains and they keep banging their heads again that Tory southern England brick wall, they could actually destroy themselves.
The Greens, well, I think any chance for them to break through is gone. The Lib Dems coming back? I’ll plead the fifth for now. That leaves Labour, who look to be in electoral free fall. All of which makes me think I should reframe the question: are we in an era of one-party politics now? May 2016 will tell us a lot, but we could indeed be in just such an age. The SNP completely dominant in Scotland while the Tories do the same in England looks on the cards for the foreseeable future. How long this one-party age lasts mostly comes down to what Labour does post-Corbyn.
If Labour get destroyed in 2020, and by destroyed I mean end up with anything south of 180 seats, and yet the left of the party remains in control, with McDonnell perhaps becoming leader, the right of the party surely has to do something radical at that stage. I know the SDP didn’t work out, but if Labour are controlled by people who are determined to make sure the Tories stay in government for the rest of the 21st century, then it really does deserve another try. Problem is, I don’t know if even that would be enough to split the Labour Party. And if that’s the case, it’s hard to see how we get back to two-party politics again – never mind the “golden age” of pluralism we all thought we were living in six months ago.