Monday, 8 August 2016

The death of two party democracy

The two party system has been so basic to British democracy for so long that it's difficult to realise that its dying and cant now serve its traditional purposes of criticising the government and providing an alternative government.

The symptoms  have been emerging for a long time but were ignored because parties still alternated and rascals were thrown out in the old fashion..Thatcher swept in as Labour lost control,Blair took over as Major failed, then Cameron,with a little help, took power in coalition. Yet behind the scenes the roots of the system were dying. Nine out of ten electors voted for one of the two alternatives in the fifties againsr two thirds now.Party membership fell from the millions to under two hundred thousand .The proportion of strong supporters fell.More people began to switch.

Then came the devastating loss of Labours majority in Scotland  where. Labour will fight win back seats as the SNPs romantic glow fades in the problems of power. Yet it won't again have the major contribution Scottish Labour MPs made to winning and holding power.Harold Wilson wouldn't have won in 1964  or 1974's first election,both building blocks to a majority.

 Labour could still hold power either in coalition with the nationalists or on the basis of support  on confidence as the Liberals relied on the Irish nationalists from 1910.Yet the two parties are bitter enemies on the Scottish ground and the Liberals could hold out the bait of Home Rule. Labour can't.

Beyond this lies a wider problem.Labour is ceasing to be one party. It may not split but its losing its base.The working class has shrunk, the middle class has grown  and is much better off. Affluence has killed altruism.Concern for the poor has been edged out by fear and dislike, faith in growth raising all boats has given way to a zero sum game in which working class gains are seen as a threat .This growing middle may not like greedy self enrichment at the top but sees scroungers and the work shy as a burden on its taxes.A meritocratic society cares less about those left behind,until they punched it by voting Brexit.

The old basic problems of depravation and want are more partial and the growing middle class is more nervous about threats from below,trade unions, higher taxes lower standards than  about the excessive rewards for those above.Indeed concerns about  pensions, house prices and  interest rates and their pawky investments cause it to identify up,not down

The BlairIte answer is to take Labour's core support for granted and reach up to the middle class and down to the properous south by accepting Thatcherism.balancing budgets and replacing general benefits by means tested meanness. Thus New Labouir delivered less to its people,a failure particularly obvious striking in housing, to appear respectable ,avoid frightening  the middle class and win the approbation of the City and the multinationals.

The left, on the other hand thinks Labour in government always betrays their principles.Having  nagged ,about this  for years they now control power and hope, by offering radical policies,greater equality  and a restoration of power to the unions, to bring back the mass working class support the party has lost.

The relationship between Parliamentaery party and the more radical  rank and file members has always been one of suspicion  but now that the lunatics have taken over the asylum mistrust has  exploded into civil war.Yetneither side is particularly attractive to the working class, the right because it offers only peanuts,  the left because of its sectarian obsessions with issues and causes of no real interest to the majority of voters.

Takes two to tango .If Labour prefers to do the Hokey- Cokey it becomes irrelevant.The precedents  are dire.When a party dies the obsequies destabilise decades as the Liberals did between the wars. If it splits it entrenches the Tories to do whatever they want, as we did Mrs Thatcher and Liberal split over home rule did Salisbury.If it's really feeble it can even allow six decades of Tory hegemony like those up to the Great Reform Bill. In fact, come to think of it my, D Phil thesis The Whigs in Opposition 1812-1830 was a brilliant preparation for being in the Labour Party.

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