"All political parites die at last of swallowing their own lies".- James Arbuthnot, 1735.
Well, here on Airstrip One we seem to be about 4 or 5 months away from the next General Election. The nation is gripped. OK it isn't. In fact, we seem to be heading towards the ultimate national humiliation. That is, a lower turnout that the recent US Presidential Election.
That the British political system seems to be heading towards as legimitation crisis, to use a phrase of Jurgen Harbemas, has been evident for some time. Some stats will illuminate matters. From 1950 to 1970 the UK had 7 General Elections (50, 51, 55, 59, 64, 66, 70) in which the two main parties both got over 40% of the vote. The following 7 General Elections (Feb 74, Oct 74, 79 , 83, 87, 92, 97) didn't see this happen once. At least one of the major parties got less than 40% of the vote between 1974 & 1997 & in October 1974 (an election described at the time as "an unpopularity contest") both Labour & Conservative Parties saw their share of the vote fall below 40%.
Last time around in June 2001 (the "Foot and Mouth Election") the trend continued, Labour getting over 40% of the vote and the Tories getting around a third. However, this was the first election since I would guess 1929 ie the first General Election since adult universal suffrage, that the two main parties between them got less than half of the electorate (ie those eligible to vote) to actually vote for them.
So the main parties are in decline. However, they get the vast majority of seats in the House of Commons. This is largely due to our wonderful first past the post electoral system, which means that a party with less than half the votes can get a majority of the seats in the Commons. However, since 1997 we have had elections using various forms of PR for elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, London Assembly & European Parliament. In elections like those, "fringe" parties like the UK Independence Party, the Greens & Scottish Socialist Party have done extremely well. If PR was ever introduced to Westminster, that would be the end of the Con-Lab hegemony over Airstrip One. It might even end before PR is introduced. We shall see.
Next time...a rough guide to the main (and not so main parties) which will be standing (or not) on the big day (05/05/05?) & why it is difficult for yours truly to vote (let alone join up or campaign for) any of them.