Parts of the media are paranoid about the UK becoming a one party state. They see the probability of a Conservative landslide as a pivotal moment, leading to the end of democracy as we know it. But is this just scaremongering?
Let’s take a look at what happened after other landslides since the end of the second world war.
In 1945 Attlee’s Labour Party secured a majority of 150 seats. By 1951, he was out of office and the Conservatives were in government.
In 1959, Macmillan’s Conservative’s won a 100 seat majority but were out of office by the end of 1964, when Wilson’s Labour party won the election with a very small majority.
In 1966, Wilson went to the country and won a 97 seat majority but was out of power by 1970, when Heath took the Conservatives to victory.
In 1983, Thatcher won a 144 seat majority. She’d already been in power for four years; but received a huge boost from her handling of the Falklands crisis. Perhaps even more important, Labour, under Michael Foot, had vacated the centre ground and was moving the party towards the far left. The Conservatives went on to win in 1987 and 1992 but with increasingly smaller majorities. At the same time, Labour was gradually coming back to the centre ground under Neil Kinnock. But it was not until Tony Blair took over the leadership that, in the eyes of the British electorate, the Labour party became electable again. And in 1997, Blair achieved a victory of 178 seats; the biggest landslide since the second world war. He followed this up with a 166 majority in 2001.
Although Labour won again in 2005, their majority was down to 65 and their star was on the wain. In 2010, they were out of office. The Conservatives have been in office since then, firstly in coalition with the Lib Dems, then on their own.
If the current opinion polls prove to be correct, it’s likely that Theresa May will win a substantial majority on the 8th June. But it’s difficult to see that this will be any different from the pattern we’ve seen over the last 70 years.
The Thatcher years were characterised by Labour vacating the centre ground and making the party unelectable. By the end of the Conservative years, John Major’s government was tired, out of touch and riddled by scandals. Tony Blair had brought Labour back to the centre ground and offered a refreshing alternative. Following their defeat, it was the Conservatives turn to vacate the centre ground, as they moved to the right. Blair kept Labour in the centre and in Government. But his party turned on him because of the Iraq war. Labour’s credibility started to wain and the Conservatives were moving back to the centre ground under David Cameron.
So where are we now?
Theresa May seems intent on holding the Conservatives in the centre ground, whilst Labour has moved to the left. Over the generations, the British public has been resolutely centrist. When the Conservatives move right, they don’t get elected and when Labour moves left, they don’t get elected.
However, the problem for some of the political zealots, of both left and right, is their perception of what is left and right. When the Conservatives were in opposition in the first few years of the century, their shift to the right was accompanied by an attempt to portray the Blair government as much further to the left than was actually the case. Similarly, today, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are trying to position the Conservatives as being much further to the right than is actually the case.
The real political battleground in this country is between centre left and centre right; between Social Democrats and One Nation Tories. The moment either the Conservatives or Labour moves outside that framework, they become unelectable and that’s what’s happening now. Labour has vacated the centre and the Conservatives remain within it. So the Conservatives are likely to win the election with a big majority.
However, one way or another the centre left will come back. It may be in the form of Labour itself or there may be a realignment of the centre left that excludes the more left wing elements of the current Labour party. In the short term, while this all unfolds, the Conservatives will have limited serious opposition but their star will gradually wain and the centre left will strengthen, resulting in a new centre left government, at some point in the future.
What’s happening now is no different from the past. Far from seeing the beginnings of a one party state, we’re seeing the workings of a strong democratic process that has served this country well for many generations and will hopefully serve it well for many generations to come.