Britain’s political system is ‘at breaking point’, according to election experts, as support for the two main parties’ hits record lows.
ERS analysis shows the latest three national polls are the lowest ever joint Labour and Conservative vote shares on record (YouGov: 38%; Opinium: 39%; Deltapoll: 46%), while an Opinium poll is the first ever poll to show five parties reach double figures in support, with the Greens 5th on 11%.
Three consecutive polls published over the weekend have shown three different parties in first place (Lib Dem, Brexit and Labour) – the first time this has happened since 1986.
However, Westminster and voters remain hampered by a binary, out-dated voting system, with small changes in support likely to mean the difference between parties winning dozens or seats and none at the next election, given the state of electoral fragmentation and ‘vote splitting’. Professor Sir John Curtice has highlighted that First Past the Post is likely to come under strong challenge.
Latest figures also show that support for the two ‘main’ parties is at record lows – one poll puts Labour and the Conservatives in third and fourth place with less than 40% of the vote. The ‘clear, long-term trend’ is that politics is moving away from two main parties.
Since Labour became the second largest party in terms of MPs at the 1922 general election, the lowest combined Conservative and Labour vote share seen in Great Britain in a general election is 67% in 2010.
The ERS are warning that the results of the next General Election will be a ‘total lottery’ and likely to be the most disproportionate in history given Westminster’s first-past-the-post voting system.
The democracy group argue it is time for Westminster to join Scotland, Wales and local elections in Northern Ireland and Ireland in introducing a ‘fair, proportional voting system’ where seats in Parliament accurately match how people vote.
It comes as MPs debate the Parliamentary Restoration and Renewal Bill today, with Westminster’s structures crumbling in every sense.
The ERS have published a new report: Westminster Beyond Brexit: Beyond the Politics of Division which looks at these themes, featuring new polling.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society said:
“We are seeing a fundamental shift in our politics with voters are turning away from the two main parties in record numbers and supporting a wider range of parties than ever before.
“We now find ourselves a multi-party democracy trapped in a two-party system – a system that is breaking at the seams as our fragmented politics tries to find a place in a one-person-takes-all voting system.
“Because of our broken voting system the next election could see the most disproportional Parliament in our history. Or voters may feel forced to ‘game the system’ by voting for their second or third preference party. Whatever happens, it will be a lottery for voters, with volatile results.
“It’s now more vital than ever the government commits to a fair and proportional voting system in Westminster, one gives us a parliament that represents the views of the people it serves.”
Professor Sir John Curtice, Professor of Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, and Senior Research Fellow at NatCen Social Research:
“There is little doubt that Britain’s traditional two-party system is facing its biggest challenge yet in the wake of the Brexit impasse. If that challenge persists it would seem inevitable that there will renewed debate about the merits of the first-past-the-post electoral system.”
Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus said:
“Under First Past the Post, relatively small numbers of votes moving can change significant numbers of seats, which can help make politics responsive. You’ve got five [large] parties – they can’t all get a majority.
“The electoral system is designed to favour the two largest parties. Electoral Calculus figures reflect this, with the Brexit Party and Labour party predicted to get many more seats than the others. If you’re one of the parties in the top two, you’ll do very well – if you’re third or lower you’ll do worse (except in Scotland with the SNP). That gives a big incentive for parties and voters to come together before an election and agree a platform.
“There’s a realignment going on, with British politics turning 90 degrees. Politics was previously dominated by the economic axis – that has now switched to the Brexit axis. The two established parties don’t have super-clear positions on the key question of Remain vs Leave, so voters are moving towards parties with a clear position on this axis. That makes things appear volatile. Maybe this is all a temporary thing – but one cannot say with confidence this has to return to the status quo.
On tactical voting:
“The ‘rational’ thing for voters is all to support one party on one side or the other: Remain or Leave: if either side could unite while the other didn’t, they’d win in a big way.”