Wednesday, April 28, 2010
How the British political landscape could change forever
This article of mine appears in today's First Post.
Neil Clark: If the Lib Dems force a coalition, every party could fragment- including Nick Clegg's.
Imagine a British political landscape without a Labour or Conservative Party. Where there are several political parties, all with a realistic chance of making it into government. Where single-party administrations are a thing of the past and multi-party coalitions are the norm.
Sounds far-fetched? It could happen much sooner than you think.
If the Liberal Democrats do hold the balance of power in next week's general election, as the opinion polls predict, then Britain's antiquated first-past-the-post electoral system will be kicked into touch.
But the adoption of proportional representation - the price the Lib Dems will demand for propping up a Tory or Labour government, whichever it turns out to be - won't only mean fairer elections in the future, it is also likely to lead to the radical transformation of our party system. And I mean radical.
While supporters of first-past-the-post denounce the idea of peacetime coalition government as being horribly 'un-British', in one sense we've had coalitions for years. Both the Labour and Conservative parties are coalitions, made up of people holding a wide range of opinions, who only stay together due to electoral convenience.
The Conservative Party includes socially liberal Europhiles such as Ken Clarke, and socially conservative EU-haters like Lord Tebbit. In today's Parliamentary Labour Party you can find the unequivocally anti-war socialist John McDonnell, and the darling of the right-wing media, Frank Field, a man who sits on the advisory board of the free market think-tank, Reform.
What keeps our two 'broad church' main parties together is the knowledge that under first-past-the-post any breakaway party has little chance of getting into government, even if, like the SDP in the early 1980s, it is led by well-known political figures and attracts plenty of positive media coverage.
But under PR all that will change. Political marriages of convenience will no longer be quite so convenient and, for some divorce will look a far more attractive option.
You can read the rest of the article here.