Oh, for the return of the two-party system

CAROLINE Lucas, the Greens’ new Supreme Overlord, wants to break the mould of British politics, which sounds strangely familiar somehow…

I’m assuming the following, lifted from the coverage on the BBC website, was a typographical error:

The big goal now is to get a seat at Westminster – “to break the cosy cartel of the Westminster parties”, as Ms Lucas put it.

Both the new leader, and her deputy Adrian Ramsay, have a reasonable chance of doing so at the next election.

It should, surely, have read: “Both the new leader, and her deputy Adrian Ramsay, believe they have a reasonable chance…”? Otherwise, the BBC have a job to do in identifying which seat is likely to fall to the Greens.

I know this probably makes me completely out of touch with the general political zeitgeist, but I do yearn for the good old days when the House of Commons was comprised almost entirely of Labour and Conservative MPs, with a smattering of Ulster Unionists and about six Liberals. Ah! Those were the days.

I see nothing undemocratic in a system which actually encourages the widest possible range of opinions within a particular party; one of the (many) problems with proportional representation is that it encourages parties to retreat into narrow ideological silos, dependent on forming coalitions after the votes are cast instead of forming wider, more transparent coalitions within the parties before election day.

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24 Comments

Filed under Parliament, Politics

24 responses to “Oh, for the return of the two-party system

  1. You mean like Democrats and Republicans?

    The problem with a two-party system is that too often the views of the minority are ignored due to a fairly tight whipping system. So while opinions may be varied, you’d hardly say they were encouraged.

    And narrow ideological silos? As opposed to large, catch-all parties that no longer mean anything ideologically? I think there is somewhere in between, and I’d argue that that is what exists in Scotland with PR. The only real differences are over constitutional questions – ideologically, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Labour in Scotland are fairly ideologically similar, no?

  2. It’s an extraordinary thing to suggest that coalitions within parties are more transparent. The only example I can think of there that’s close to the case is with the SSP, where the “comrades” divide by platform. Not a good model, not compared to parties competing across the spectrum and setting out their priorities for any coalition negotiation.

    Two party politics clusters unrepresentatively around the middle, and leaves vast swathes of the public unrepresented. That’s the true silo.

    As for which seats we Greens going to win, the BBC already told you. In Brighton Pavilion we have nine councillors to your six and the Tories’ five. It’s not a shoe-in, but it’s at the very least a reasonable chance, especially given the extra profile Caroline Lucas will get now as the leader.

    Also, if I were Charles Clarke I’d be having nightmares about Adrian Ramsay. Listen to him speak and tell me you don’t wish Labour was a visionary enough party to have recruited him instead.

  3. James – if I have to start listening to Greens in the Commons, then I promise you my yearning for the old two-party system will only intensify

  4. Johnny Norfolk

    I spent some years in Italy. and the weakness of Italian politics and the continous changes of government were blamed on PR. My friends were full of envy for our first past the post system as a single party ran everything and you could see who to blame. PR gives wide representation but weak government. Our system gives no hiding place for weak governments as we can see now with Labour..

  5. The Greens are also identified as having a good chance of winning those seats because in both cases, they out performed all other parties in that Westminster seat when the ward results are totted up. And in the case of Brighton Pavillion, I believe the Labour MP is stepping down?

  6. Richard

    I think a greater part of the problem (and something that is causing great disillusionment amongst the politically uncommitted) is the tendency of New-Labour to “triangulate” its policies from focus groups of floating voters.

    It’s not too difficult to see that the Labour party mortgaged pretty much all of their most closely held beliefs in order to attain power. The irony is that now Tony is gone, what does the Labour party stand for and who do you represent other than yourselves?

  7. Madasafish

    I’m looking forward to the return of the 2 party system after the next GE.
    The Conservatives as Government and the LibDems as Official Opposition of course.
    🙂

  8. Tom, unless your tongue is firmly in your cheek I don’t actually understand your point. What could be worse or less democratic than having fewer parties. Are not the problems of modern civilisation complicated enough that within parliament itself more than two monolithic viewpoints need be expressed?

    But don’t worry Tom, you might not have to listen to elected greens, under first past the post you can happily loose your own seat whilst still being the democratic choice of a significant minority.

  9. You demonstrate how little you know about proportional representation. It all depends which system, and you should stop generalising about PR as a whole. If you adopt the single transferable vote in multi-member constituences (PR/STV), it would tend to have precisely the opposite effect to that which you claim, i.e. it would discourage splintering into small parties, and encourage different strands of opinion within larger parties, between which the voter would be able to choose, if he or she so wished.

  10. A return to two party politics, eh? What a fantastic idea. The question is, how exactly do you get Labour to disband?

    I suspect they may not share your enthusiasm somehow.

  11. I have exactly the opposite opinion on this to TH. In my view, parties are only formed on the precise basis that they do not represent the whole public, but a sectional opinion. The job of parties is to implement that sectional opinion, and, therefore, to water it down as little as possible within the context of making your deal with the rest of the electorate.

    Fewer parties encourages philosophical compromise (and hence either aimlessness or dishonesty with the electorate), but fails to provide philosophical plurality, because party structures always work to the advantage of the faction currently in control, and are easily changed by them.

    For that reason also, activists and believers in causes are far better served by having someone like-minded to defect to. In the marketplace of ideas, people with beliefs should have as many competitors as possible from which to buy their enactment in real life. What a two party system does is build monopolies on providing implementation of beliefs, thus disempowering activists, and more widely those among us who can be bothered to actually formulate opinions.

    They provide poor customer service to sectional interests active within them, and within the wider electorate. This can only be denied to be a problem if you believe that everyone’s interests are reasonably confluent.

    But if you believe that, why have any party politics in the first place?

  12. Frank Davis

    I see nothing undemocratic in a system which actually encourages the widest possible range of opinions within a particular party;… forming wider, more transparent coalitions within the parties before election day.

    But why stop at two parties? Why not just have one party? With just one party there could be an even wider and even more transparent set of coalitions. And with one party, the tiresome lottery of elections could be dispensed with, giving career politicians much-needed job security at last. I can see so many advantages that I’m surprised that nobody else has ever thought of it.

  13. Good point, well made, Frank

  14. Letters From A Tory

    As has been mentioned above, the Green Party like everyone else will be squeezed by a Conservative push at the next election. The Greens chose the wrong time to try and make national progress at the polls

  15. El Toro

    “I see nothing undemocratic in a system which actually encourages the widest possible range of opinions within a particular party”

    Fantastic news – I’m looking forward to the debate for or against independence taking place within the Labour Party – how refreshing, very commendable Tom!

  16. Brian Hall

    The greens would be doing better if the economy was working, but as people tighten their belts they are less interested in pro-green government and more interested in being green and efficient about the house.

    Parties should stick to their own ideological fences, its damaging if there is too much cross over. I feel this is why there is greater trust in Holyrood than in Westminister at the moment in Scotland; people believe certain parties can now stand for certain things again. Note the slight movement back towards the Tories in the South and Edinburgh and the Lib Dems achieving dominance in Highlands and Islands.

    No one party ruling the roost is good for the people.

    In short competition breeds efficient and competent business and government.

  17. The significant problem with any proportional system is that it accords undue weight to small parties of political extremists.

    The only alternative would be political stagnation, consisting of periods of the largest parties in coalitions that might get a few pet policies through, but unable to establish or challenge a consensus, occasionally rocked by periods of factionalism in which a big party tries to canvass the support of smaller parties to govern, often at the cost of unpopular political concessions.

  18. “This is why there is greater trust in Holyrood than in Westminster at the moment.”

    Well, if that is the case, Brian, then we’ll see a lower turnout at the next general election in Scotland than there was at the Scottish elections of 2007.

  19. Brian

    As a generalization yes, but due to circumstances such as the current constitutional climate I really doubt so!

  20. Actually I’d argue the opposite, Tom.
    Turnout seems to increase when dissatisfaction with Government grows. Hence why the turnout in 1992 was so-so, but a lot higher in the ’97 landslide, because in ’92 people were annoyed with Government, but it was so-so annoyance and Maggie going was enough for a lot of agitators, whereas in ’97 people were genuinely fed-up with the Tories, with sleaze, with the economy going tits-up, with Government taking too much interest in people’s lives, with a totally uncharismatic leader who inspires only ridicule and sarcasm…

    Plus ce change plus ce la meme chose.

  21. Except that turnout in 1997 was lower than in 1992.

  22. Madasafish

    You could argue that the 1997 result was a foregone conclusion …whilst 1992 was close: The Conservatives won blargely due to Neil Kinnock coupled with his Sheffield rally (shades of Obama in Berlin).

    Political betting has a detailed analysis
    http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2008/09/12/are-we-seeing-the-ending-of-the-tory-voters-strike/#comments

  23. richard

    Well, the SNP don’t seem to be having much trouble getting their vote out, nor do the Conservatives if Crewe, Henley, etc are any indication.

    I think it’s clear to anyone with even the faintest understanding of politics that Labour are going to lose the next election. The only real issue is whether the Conservatives win with more or less than a hundred seats and whether the SNP manage to mop the floor with Labour in Scotland.

  24. Youch.
    Got kinda burned on that didn’t I?

    Gonna have to look up my figures better when debating with you m’boy.

    I’ll just be over in the corner feeling stupid right about now, an if ye don’t mind.

    Turnout numbers aside, my main point was the growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the current Government. I know, since you’re a member of the party in said Government that you’ll disagree with me, but nonetheless, from a purely non-partisan point of view, I have to say Labour are pretty screwed on this.

    Bad for the UK since the tories are if anything worse than Labour (although possibly not on the wholesale selling of our sovereignty to the lowest bidder and the plundering civil liberties, but maybe not, time will tell), but not too bad for Scotland since the hatred for the Tories is so strong here it will help push up a Yes vote in the referendum. Which is a Good Thingâ„¢

    Touch´on the numbers thing. Mea culpa. I looked up some dodgy figures. Should trusted Wiki.

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