It would be ironic if, as Britain prepares to leave the EU, the country’s fragmentary politics became more characteristically European
Across Europe, old two-party political systems have been fragmenting for a generation and more. In most western European countries, the left-right split has long been overlaid by others, notably on social values and identity. Germany now has seven significant parties in the Bundestag. France has at least nine in a national assembly dominated by a party that did not even exist in 2016. Ireland’s Dáil has 10 and more. Spain’s outgoing congress of deputies some 13. Part of this fragmentation can be explained by differences in electoral systems and in national histories that make multiparty outcomes more likely. But not all of it. The fragmentation also reflects the fact that all societies have evolved in the post-industrial era, and that politics has had to adjust.
Is the same thing happening here? It already has done in Scotland. The abandonment of the Labour and Conservative parties by 12 MPs this week suggests it may be happening in England, too. Britain’s old duopoly was challenged in the 1970s and 1980s. The process did not go as far or fast as it did elsewhere, partly due to our first-past-the-post system. But the same stresses and strains were there, helping to boost parties like the Liberal Democrats, Ukip and the nationalists. The 2017 election saw a swing back to the old parties. Now, fragmentation may be resuming. It would be ironic if, as Britain leaves the EU, British politics become more firmly European.