Conservative Labour party

Is Britain's two-party system in decline?


A two party -system has existed in the United Kingdom since the late 17th century. Based on the evidence, since the mid 1920s until present, the dominant groups are the Conservative party and the Labour party. So There are also some smaller parties exist in the united kingdom e.g. The Liberal Democrats, the green party, the British, Scottish and Walsh nationalist parties, who are representing the minorities in the UK parliament.

But the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties are the dominant in the Wales and Scotland. However, I will be writing on the Britain's two-party system to see the system is developing or in decline? I think this topic is very interesting, because the past histories of political parties in Britain gives us the notions of how to discover that the two-party system is developed or whether in decline. Thus, as many intellectuals and politician are arguing that, there is different type of political systems exist in Britain.

In order to find out or to understand the system, I will exclusively focus on the Conservative and Labour parties, as they have been the dominant parties since the 20th century until now. This essay will argue that why still some politicians and intellectuals in Britain have called the British political system is a two-party system? And what are their suggestions today? Well, for finding the facts and realities, I follow the ideas of some British politicians who have used their initiatives to examine the British politics on way of whether the British political system is a two-party system or the system in decline.

For these ideas, the evidences to be used to show the argument is more clear. However, this essay will demonstrate the distinct between the Labour Government and Conservative government through the 20th century. Also, I am going to argue that the roles of the opposition parties are very important, because they have been contributed a lot to the government, which they are still struggling to make a strong and powerful opposition in parliament, so the recent and past elections are the clear guidance and leads us to the truth.

So the roles of the electoral system are very crucial, therefore I had used my initiatives in order to gain relevant information relating to the topic. The arguments in this essay are based on the searches and readings that I have carried out during this essay writings. The debates within this essay are theoretical and empirical prospective in comparison with the past and present political developments and failures.

Political system in Britain has always formed the government, the dominant party in parliament has the right to form the government policy for five years period during each election and represent the United kingdoms foreign policy too. Alderman's study of “1989 contemplated the possibility that Britain now had a one-party system similar to that of Japan.”

But I think Alderman is totally wrong, because the political system in Britain in not a one-party model, because the vast majority of electors supported either the labour or conservative parties at a “general election- as in 1951 when the combined two-party votes were as high as 69.8 per cent”. (Garner& Kelly p12) Until 1974, the two parties' share of the vote was never much below 90 per cent, while the third party vote never exceeded the 11.2 per cent.

But they did not prevent either of two major parties from governing alone, as they were unable to gain appropriate percentages of the votes from the public to influence the Westminster policy. However, as I noted from the past and recent elections, the margin between the two major parties were always closed enough, so the party in opposition had not a chance to share the power with the governing party. However, on this essay I am going to demonstrate the facts that led those two parties to win the elections and maintain as a dominant parties within the British society.

For finding the facts and realities that lies on the political systems, we cannot ignore the past history of British politics. Therefore, it is very important to look over it in brief details.


“In recent years, there has been a great deal of argument and confusion concerning the true character of Britain's party system. This represents a sharp contrast with the situation obtaining for most of the post-war period, when Britain's two-party system was widely considered a supreme example of two-party model. “Writing in 1962, Ivor Jennings suggested that there was a natural tendency for Britain to have a two-party system, while in 1968 R. M. Punnett agreed that such a system was the logical outcome of both the Westminster model of Parliamentary democracy and the pattern of political debates in Britain”.

1n 1977, Drucker suggested that Britain's party system had become ‘multi-party' in character, citing in 1974 general elections as evidence. Three years later, an introductory chapter by S. E. Finer implied that the 1979 election had highlighted that Britain's was, in essence, still a two-party system. The emergence of the SDP-Liberal Alliance in 1981 prompted further conflicting speculation. By 1985, for instance,”

Berrington believed that the system is three-party system. However, Benyon indicating in 1987 election the system is two-party systems not a three. “In 1988, however Crewe suggested that the three-party system Britain has known since 1981 is dead; while Alderman's study of 1989 contemplated the possibility that Britain now had a one-party system similar to that of Japan.” To make sense of these confusions, it is necessary to clarify each point that most scholars of British politics period to 1974 has appointed.

There are in fact no three-party systems exist among British Politics, because the two main parties play a central and essential role in the political life. That is why Britain is often presented as a pure and perfect model of a two-party system at the time. Britain for the most of the post-war period had a classic two-party system, because the social class was the main foundation of the two-party system. “Since 1970s this system has come under persistent pressure, with the growth of support for a wider range of political parties; the impact of centre parties like the Liberals. Yet it has not been just the centre parties have benefited from the fragmentation of party support.

The Scottish National party has commanded between 11 and 30 per cent of votes in Scotland in the last seven general elections, winning 11 seats and more votes than the conservative in October 1974. In Wales, Plaid Cymru has secured on average 8 per cent of votes at elections since 1970 and has become a veritable force in Welsh-speaking constituencies. The Green Party achieved almost 15 per cent of the votes in Britain at the 1989 European elections, a performance reflected and often battered by many of its members contesting local elections in the late 1980s. In the late 1970s, there was even increased support for the National Front, which came third in the three by-elections in the 1976 and 1977 while polling up to 17 per cent in certain local elections” (Garner& Kelly p4).

Recent electoral movements in Britain appear to bring that country gradually nearer towards multi-party system, the slow decline of the Labour and Conservative parties have tended to conform to this model.

  • The implication of cold war on British political parties
  • How the cold war divided the ideologies in Britain?
  • What was the cause of dividing?
  • What was the consequence of the cold war?
  • Emerging the new political parties

Political Party's Agenda In Britain

  • what were their agendas
  • the agenda of Conservative


The introduction of devolution by the Labour party since 1997 has regionalised democracy even further and has resulted in the emergence of small nationalist parties such as the SNP in Scotland, Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland and Plaid Cymru in Wales, which have nope chance of holding government in Westminster but do receive a great deal of local support. Therefore at local and even devolved level, the UK can be classed as possessing the qualities of a multi party system.

However at national level, this idea seems implausible as the vast majority of seats are shared by only two or perhaps three parties and therefore the smaller parties can be considered to have very little effect on the overall political situation. In conclusion, the UK can still best be described as a two party system, provided two considerations are taken into account.

The first is that Conservative dominance victories between 1979-97 was not a suggestion of party dominance and that eventually, the swing of the political pendulum will be even for both sides. This can perhaps be seen today with Labour's two landslide victories in 1997 and 2001


Why they have given up their seats to Liberals?

The Theory of power among two main British parties

“As McKenzie aim to assess the relevance of Michels's theory to the distribution of power within the two main British parties, He concludes, in line with Michels, that authority in both parties rests with parliamentary party and its leadership and that the role of the party outside parliament is limited to vote-getting rather than policy-making. Thus, McKenzie seeks to dispel what the sees as the myth that Labour Party, unlike the Conservative Party, is internally democratic. McKenzie argues that both parties have a similar power structure because they both accept the rules and convictions which govern the British political system. Thus, both parties accept that party leaders must exercise absolute power in the choice of their Cabinet colleagues and that MPs must be responsible to the electorate and not the extra-parliamentary party.” (Garner& Kelly p8)


The system is not two-party system today

Since the mid-1920s the dominant groupings have been the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. However, several smaller parties e.g., the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties, and loyalist (unionist) and republican (nationalist) political parties in Northern Ireland - have gained representation in Parliament, especially since the 1970s. The two-party system is one of the outstanding features of British politics and generally has produced firm and decisive government.

The system is not unstable

And the decline of the two major parties was such that Britain appeared to have moved into the exceptional and seemingly transitional position of a 'genuine' three party system. If the proposition advanced earlier is correct, it would seem that in the next few years Britain will move to one of three types of further changes.

The Liberals could return to their 'normal' position of small party; they could displace one of the two major parties, a split could occur among the supporters of one or both of the major parties and Britain might move from the two-party systems to the third or multi-party systems.

The future developments unpredictable

As the title indicates, this is a state in which just two parties dominate. Other parties might exist but they have no political importance.


*Garner, R.; Kelly, R. (1993) British political parties today (Manchester: Manchester University Press).

*Punleanvy, P.; Gamble, A.; Holliday, I.; Peeple, G. (2000) Development in British Politics 6 (New York: St. Martin's Press).

*Peter Mair (1990) The West European Party System, ed (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 302-310