that "a 50-50 tie may be the new equilibrium state of American politics",
and helpfully provides links to other
thing in the past. It stands to reason that in a two-party state, the parties
will find themselves moving in the direction of the center. And the New York
Times front an article
today on how an individual – New York governor George Pataki – has
moved from being essentially conservative in 1994 to being essentially liberal
Which all set me to thining: why doesn’t a similar thing happen in the UK?
British elections are just as likely as not to be landslides, whether for Thatcher
or for Blair. And all the opinion-polling, focus-grouping and position-tweaking
in the world doesn’t seem to be doing the Tories the slightest bit of good.
Basically, I’m wondering why there seems to be no chance of a Tory government
in the foreseeable future. The reasons I came up with:
- The UK (or Great Britain, at least) has a three-party system, not a two-party
system, and therefore a vote against one party doesn’t need to be a vote for
the other. In the US, if one of the parties caters too much to its core constituencies
(the unions, the Christian right) then alienated moderates run straight into
the arms of the opposition. In the UK, they run straight into the arms of
Charles Kennedy, which is a much less frightening prospect.
- Both Democrats and Republicans are more naturally universal than Labour
and the Conservatives. Just look at their names – while everybody in
the US is both a democrat and a republican, most Brits aren’t affiliated with
organised labour, and neither do they consider themselves to be particularly
conservative. Even within the Tory party, the Thatcherite wing was and is
far from small-c conservative.
- In the US, the executive and legislative branches are separately elected.
So even when the president wins election by a comfortable margin, the electorate
still constrains him through Congress. That’s impossible in the UK. It’s also
much easier to split your vote in the US: vote Pataki for governor and Hillary
Clinton for senator, say. In the UK, you can vote against your party in terms
of local elections, but they have very little effect on national politics.
- The fact that there are 50 elected governors and 100 elected senators, as
well as a kind-of-elected vice president, means that both parties have a relatively
large pool of powerful politicians from which they can pick their presidential
candidates. Once a UK party loses power, on the other hand, none of its MPs
hold any kind of important office. That makes it much harder for the opposition
to take back power: basically, the party in government has to lose the election,
rather than the opposition winning it. Remember that the only politician in
the UK who’s elected by more than 80,000 people is the mayor of London.
All of which is to say that the British constitutional system would be vastly
improved by having a powerful and elected second chamber. It would be a good
thing for many reasons, of course, and the conclusion is far from ground-breaking.
But my point is that a second chamber would do more than simply provide a legislative
check on the executive. It could become a proving-ground for the opposition,
giving politicians who aren’t in government an opportunity to take on an important
public role. I’m not sure that even a second chamber would be able to rehabilitate
the Tories in their present parlous state. But it might have helped to create
a stronger opposition candidate in the 1992 election than Neil Kinnock. And
it could even give the Liberal Democrats the national legitimacy they need to
become the official party of opposition.