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Over the previous few weeks, opinion polls have consistently placed four parties in a statistical tie at the top of British politics. Changing only slightly when Boris romped into Buckingham Palace, these four parties, the Brexit Party, Conservatives, Labour, and Lib-Dems, are constantly wrestling with one another; never exceeding or decreasing behind 20% of the general public’s support.
So far, the Conservative and Labour Party have managed to stay buoyant; yet the increasingly heavy Liberal-Democrats (attracting votes from both a pro-Brexit conservative party, and a flamboyantly incompetent Labour party) alongside the badger-baiting Brexit Party, who are sapping votes from their Eurosceptic flanks, are making political realignment all but expected.
After the 2016 European referendum, British political debate has become defined by your European preferences rather than the traditional class distinctions that have for so long determined who Britons vote for. This, along with a rather nebulous psychological consequence of our first-past-the-post voting system, has made post-Brexit Britain fertile ground for a seismic shift in party politics.
This physiological consequence, first identified by the French sociologist Duverger, noted that the first-past-the-post system; seen in Canada, Britain, and the United States, encourages citizens to vote for parties who actually have a chance of forming government—rather than risk wasting their vote on parties that do not.
This is why, for almost 70 years now, the Conservative and Labour Party have dominated British politics, resting upon their laurels and growing negligent. They were safe with the knowledge that they only had to compete with each other—entirely free from extraneous usurpation.
Likewise, In the United States, which is perhaps the most poignant example, the Republican and Democrat party have similarly experienced intellectual and democratic atrophy through their rigid two-party system; which derives almost entirely from this psychological symptom. In an America where competition seems to be engraved upon the national ethos, it is, at the very least eyebrow-raising that intense competition is suspended for the political class.
Duverger’s law similarly explains why seemingly credible parties suffer from such misfortune in elections. Take the New Democrat Party in Canada, who have previously (not, however, under Jagmeet Singh, who seems more comfortable wallowing in his monumental ineffectiveness) wielded impressive, statesmanlike candidates; think Jack Layton and Tommy Douglas.
The Liberal Democrats, like the NDP, have experienced many gruelling elections where they have suffered painful losses as a result of this phenomena. If they ever are to win an election, they have to appear credible. Owing much to the tumultuousness of post-Brexit Britain, the Lib-Dems, along with the Brexit party, are finally on their way to achieving this.
This year’s European election emphasized a strong aversion to the status-quo amongst Britons, as the Lib-Dems and the Brexit Party (led by man-of-the-people Nigel Farage, who as leader of UKIP resigned three separate times only to then go and form his own party) enjoyed walloping success in winning seats. This electoral trouncing, coupled with polls that consistently place the two parties ahead of both the Conservative and Labour Party awarded the two-parties new-found credibility. This lethal concoction may facilitate the most fundamental transformation in British politics since Labour emerged from mass mobilization.
To put it simply, if voters believe that unfamiliar parties can win an election, then this belief becomes self-fulfilling. If voters believe that the establishment parties have ceased to be unbeatable, they become beatable.
Quite obviously, a great deal will need to happen to create the conditions where this political realignment manifests. However, through the success of the SNP in Scotland and the CAQ in Quebec, it should be understood that no party, no matter how deeply rooted in the culture and traditions of its country, has a God-given right to govern, or even survive.