DO we actually have a two-party system in this country? The answer, based on the statistics, seems to be no.
Consider the 21 general elections we have had since 1945. That year is the best one to start from, as it marks the first time Labour was able to serve a whole term in government, ending the period of transition with the Liberals as the leading non-Conservative party in the Commons.
Of these, Labour has won just eight, with one extra being just the largest party in the Commons in February 1974. And three of these nine elections where Labour topped the polls have been followed by less than two years in power.
Labour called an election in 1951 after previously holding one in 1950, in 1966 after winning in 1964, and in the autumn of 1974, after just becoming the largest party in the Commons in February of that year. By contrast, the only time the Conservatives have held elections after about two years in power has been in 2017 and last December.
Labour’s only election victories to have had any depth to them have been in 1945 and 1966, if Tony Blair’s hat-trick is ignored, as it is by most socialists these days.
While Labour and the Conservatives might be the largest two parties in the Commons, the Conservatives, by constantly adapting to economic realities and public taste, successfully manage to align themselves to the voters in sufficient quantity to have been able to win ten of the last 21 general elections, but also managed to govern as the senior party in a coalition after 2010, and as the largest party in a confidence-and-supply agreement in 2017.
Labour does not do as well as the Conservatives because it is handicapped by its adherence to an ideology that is now getting more extreme. It was only when its ideology was toned down or ignored by Tony Blair in the 1990s that Labour started winning general elections for the eight years after 1997. As soon as Labour reverted to type, it started to lose again. The Blair years are now bracketed by four successive election defeats, 1979-1992 and 2010-2019.
Labour does not seem to gain office other than when the public tire of the Conservatives, or when they mess up somehow. Harold Wilson was born in 1916, the same year Harold Macmillan was fighting the Kaiser in Flanders. Macmillan, who became PM in 1957, gave way to an equally crusty Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who was only 13 years older than Wilson at a time when the youth-oriented Swinging Sixties were in, well, full swing, but the same might not have been said of the UK economy.
The Conservatives’ loss to Wilson in 1974 was in the midst of strikes and power cuts for which Edward Heath was blamed. In 1997, the Tories had run out of steam, beset with scandal and having lost economic credibility following the chaotic ejection from the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Under Ed Miliband, Labour had a ‘35 per cent’ core vote strategy, depending on a schism in the Cameron-led coalition to seamlessly ease the party into power. Essentially it played the waiting game yet again.
Corbyn tried to pull the same trick last year by using opportunism to derail Brexit rather than letting Theresa May get her Soft Brexit deal with the EU and thus getting the issue off the table. By all accounts, Brexit won the general election for Boris Johnson, although Corbyn’s unelectability came a close second as a reason for Labour’s defeat.
That does not sound like a two-party system. It’s more like the Conservatives occasionally spending a short time in an ice-hockey sin-bin and then being allowed out again to dominate the game once again.
And this mentality seems to dominate socialist thinking. Socialists seem to admit they cannot win the battle of ideas. Writing in Unherd, David Kogan stated that ‘Boris Johnson owns Brexit and economic policy. If they go awry there may now be a Labour leadership that can take fight to him’.
Consider the import of that statement. Labour does not succeed due to a triumph of its own ideas, but because of adverse events. Of course Churchill in 1951, Thatcher in 1979, and Cameron in 2010 all prevailed because Labour had messed up, but the Conservatives in all three cases went on and are going on to have more than a decade in office where they have managed to be the master of adverse events rather than the reverse.
The Conservatives even managed to win in 1959 after the national humiliation of Suez three years previously, and won in 1992 in the midst of a recession. In the case of Labour, it has managed only to govern for more than a decade thanks to Tony Blair moving away from ideology and towards what could pass for pragmatism by refusing to reverse any of Margaret Thatcher’s major economic reforms.
For doing this and keeping Labour in office for 13 years, Blair is now a hate-figure of the Left, which is demonstration enough of their perverted thinking.
So it is not much of a two-party system. The Conservatives have to date governed for about 50 per cent longer than Labour since 1945, 45 years versus 30. If their majority holds until 2024, then this will be 50-30.
There has to be a caveat, of course. Cameron’s victory in 2015 led some, me included, to believe that the next election would be in 2020. But at present it does seem that we have more of a 1.5 party system, with Labour let in for short intervals while the Conservatives recuperate and then return for multiple terms in office.
The exception is Tony Blair. But there is no sign whatsoever that Labour is going to return to a latter-day version of Blairism or anything close to the current national political mood while the party courts a coalition of minority-focused opinions, such as babies being ‘born without sex’, as Dawn Butler announced this week on television.
Until Labour starts compromising with the electorate and actually listening to the voters rather than lecturing them on narrow social issues and obsolete ideology, it will always be half the party the Conservatives are.