As all the voters in the UK will know, May the 7th is approaching and tensions are running high. The first TV debate between party leaders has been aired, the first signs of future change on ground level appearing, and policy announcements are growing even more forceful, more desperate, as the day nears.
Of course, I’m talking about the British General Election, but I’m not about to take a side. Rather, I’m writing to talk about the turning point this election presents, and what it could mean for the future of British politics. Specifically, I want to address the question brought forward by the establishment of the current coalition government: is traditional left/right politics in Britain on the decline?
One thing is becoming increasingly clear: the coalition established after 2010’s vote was cast is the first to have arisen since 1945, yet it seems unlikely that this shall be the last. The usual distinctions between a Labour and a Conservative voter are wearing away rapidly, possibly alongside the obvious social distinctions that once separated the two groups, and it now seems inconceivable that the population could be divided between the supportive realms these two parties once possessed. Really, if we look at it from this angle, it doesn’t seem surprising that nobody in 2010 could secure an outright majority, and it suggests that nobody will this year either, but what does this say about the future of party democracy?
The latter half of the previous century has seen, among many other phenomena, party politics drift slowly towards the centre; once in a position where they could be viewed as the country’s answer to the radical European worker’s movements on the eve of the Russian Revolution, the Labour Party has grown so moderate in their approach that they could be seen to have rejected socialism entirely; once truly conservative, the Conservative Party recently legalised homosexual marriage, straying far from what once were core, underlying values of traditon and, well, conservatism. Assuming such a trend continues, we can logically predict a point in the near future where the current necessity of a party to vote for is no longer apparent, where left/right politics is no longer existent. So, to answer the question, I believe that the political divide in Britain is, in fact, on the decline, and has been for some time.
I understand that this view seems contradicted by the increase in popularity of smaller parties (The Green Party or the United Kingdom Independence Party providing examples in Britain’s case), which are often more firmly rooted in the philosophies that once drove the Labour or Conservative parties. I wouldn’t see this as a contradiction to my view, rather a side-effect of the model that it proposes. In other words, I believe it’s natural that as the mainstream parties lose their ideological ground, vast territories in the left and right are left unoccupied, which other movements will rise to claim. I don’t, however, believe that the cycle will repeat, that UKIP will become the ‘new Conservatives’, and I think the fact that no serious movement on the left or right has arisen proves this; all we are seeing is splinter factions take a temporary stand as the original political ties fragment, as the original divisions crumble, but they too will either move towards the centre or be reduced to insignificance.
On that note, if such a trend represents the political situation of western democracy as a whole, rather than just a one-time occurrence in Britain, then the UK as a country is by no means at the forefront of this change. Europe, for example, is a continent used to the rule of coalition governments, even those which constitute polar opposites. Just look at Greece, in which the latest General Election brought to power a coalition between a radical leftist, neo-communist party and a centre right movement, linked only by their opposition to austerity imposed by the European Union.
So, if such change, is occurring worldwide, and democracy is slowly becoming a battle between individuals rather than ideologies, then what can be done about it? Should we resist the change? Should we back the smaller, radically orientated parties just to repel the pull of the centre? I suppose it’s up to you, but the way I see it, there’s not a lot we can do to change things. I believe that, like the issues caused by voting inequality roughly a century ago, we’ll get over this issue by confronting it head-on.
Of course, I may be entirely deluded, in which case there’s nothing to worry about, and even if I’m right, it can’t be all bad news; it may even be refreshing to break the ties people once had with their parties. After all, this needn’t be viewed as the end of one political era. Rather, you could see it as the start of a next.
Either way, keep voting and we’ll soon see what happens!
The image of David Cameron was provided by the user ukhomeoffice from Wikimedia Commons.
The image of Ed Miliband was provided by the user Ed Miliband for Leader, also from Wikimedia Commons.
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