What is clearly true is the traditional party landscape as it was in the 1950s and 60s has completely broken down. We are no longer a two party system, which were 90 percent of the population are voting for Labour and the Conservatives as they did in those years. Now we have a multi-party system but we have the same electoral system as always: First Past The Post. So it’s not new parties that are needed. We’ve got quite a few new ones in existence already: UKIP, Greens, etc. What you need is a new electoral system because that’s the only way a new political formation can possibly emerge.
As it stands the current system, with its regional variations will always make it a fight between the two biggest parties with the third party getting the crumbs from the table, and sometimes less than that. People can pronounce all they like on new parties, or new coalitions as some people in the Labour Party have suggested recently, but unless electoral reform takes place nothing will radically change.
“A new electoral system is the only way a new political formation can possible emerge.”
And you would have to say the prospect for electoral reform given the vote on the recent referendum – that’s the other referendum, which took place in 2011 on proportional representation – is very now unlikely. There are too many vested interests in the current system, wherever you are on the political spectrum. If you’re in a position of power, giving it up is not really an instinct you have.
There is always the possibility that a new, third party could overtake either Labour or the Conservatives and become one of the big two. It happened historically when Labour overtook the Liberal Party in the early part of the 20th century, but in recent political memory it just hasn’t happened.
There were times in the early 1980s where the polls suggested the Social Democratic Party might make that kind of breakthrough because Labour were unpopular, but it didn’t happen. So it’s an extraordinarily difficult task. Look at the vote UKIP amassed at the 2015 General Election: nearly 13 percent, more than the Liberal Democrats, which you would say is some sort of breakthrough. Yet they only got one MP, Douglas Carswell. So it’s incredibly difficult for a new party to break through under First Past The Post. The arithmetic is nearly immovable.
The best chance for a new party to emerge is if one of the major parties reconfigures itself – and you’re could argue that is what is happening to Labour right now. But it will be a new version of an existing party, rather than a new choice for people at the election.