The two-party system is dying – and this vote may kill it

Starmer and Reeves
Starmer and Reeves: our new dictators? - Stefan Rousseau/PA

If this poll proves accurate then July 4 might be the doomsday event that finally converts conservatives to proportional representation. Labour – not having cracked 50 per cent of the popular vote – enjoys a Soviet-style majority in the Commons; Tories second in vote share yet almost third in seats; Lib Dems third in vote share yet within a whisker of forming His Majesty’s Opposition. Reform on nothing.

For decades Right-wingers defended First Past the Post (FPTP) on the grounds that it roots MPs in a local polity while providing stable national government. PR was for foreigners, typically Italian, who like being governed by chaotic coalitions collated from lists.

But what FPTP was never meant to do was create a dictatorship – and a Labour landslide of this size amounts to just that. Under our system, a parliamentary majority can do whatever it wants (see Brexit). A Left-wing government with barely any opposition means five years of driving the country Left-ward with nary a check nor a balance – even if most of the country will have voted against it or abstained.

The Lib Dems will say “suck it up: that’s what we went through in the 1980s. We got a quarter of the vote; we got a tiny number of seats. When we demanded PR, the Tories laughed at us.”

Ah, but the situation is now very different. The old SDP/Liberal Alliance came third in the popular vote, not second – and thus its number of seats might have been disproportionately low, but it reflected its failure to beat Labour (still the dominant party of the urban working-class). 

By contrast, the present possibility of the Conservatives/Reform together winning almost as many votes as Labour but taking a small/zero number of seats is patently absurd. It’s evidence of a constitution no longer capable of expressing the will of the voters – akin to being governed by a council of bishops long after people stopped going to church.

Here’s the fundamental problem: the two-party system is dying, but the constitutional framework props it up. Only five years ago, Labour received historically bad results; now it’s the Conservatives’ turn. The governing class is incompetent, weird and has zero charisma. Being run by vicars might actually be more compelling.

Smaller parties are emerging to represent the young, the disenfranchised, the discontented – Reform, Lib Dem, Green, SNP, perhaps even the Workers Party. Britons are thus voting like they live under PR, seeking new ideas and fresh faces that ought to result in a kaleidoscopic Commons. Yet they’re getting results as if they were living under the mass-membership party system circa 1945 – a Labour landslide that wildly exaggerates the actual level of support for Sir Keir Starmer in the country (he’s no Clement Attlee).

Curiously, this is the one aspect of our system you can guarantee he won’t fix: votes for 16 year olds, Lords reform, yes. But why would any leader tinker with an electoral system that hands him Napoleonic powers even though the public is utterly cynical about his ability to fix anything?