The 2015 coalition government was a warning that the political system is broken, Giovanni Sartori predicted as much.
The current crisis in British politics seems to have no end, it is almost certain that however Brexit concludes it will continue to divide the nation, which has been accompanied by an increase in the calls for general elections to resolve impasses. Impasses which have commonly been associated with Southern European politics, where political check-mate is resolved with a return to the polls. There are signs that our democracy is heading in a similar direction, and if the work of Giovanni Sartori is anything to go by, we should brace ourselves for more frequent elections. Worse still, there is a trend, in Germany the deadlock of the elections has meant Angela Merkel sifting power to other parties, Sweden was without a government for 4 months. The contending divisions of how we intend to pursue economic growth will only exacerbate this problem, as cooperation becomes unlikely.
The whole design of the first past the post system is that it is supposed to deliver a clear winner on each occasion, to give parties the opportunity to govern. Yet both in 2010 and in 2017 the electorate returned a damning verdict that no one party is fit to govern by themselves, revealing a deep mistrust in politicians. The years since 2010 have shown that the electorate is lacking confidence in a single party, and hence there have been significant constraints on any party’s power in government. One cannot look past the Iraq war, where a significant majority in the governing party allowed a catastrophic failing of the checks and balances that parliament should offer.
For a two-party system to function, Sartori argues that at each election one party should have a clear chance of winning, as used to be the case in Britain. The emergence of a third-party is signs of a crisis in the political sphere, something we have become familiar with since 2010. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the vote, in an alternative vote plus system as the German’s have, the Tories would have won 275 seats, Labour 234 and Lib Dems 110. In 2017, the Tory majority would have been 13. According to Sartori, the SNP would have had governing potential in 2015 as coalition partners, as did the Lib Dems in 2010, and though UKIP would still have barely gained any seats under proportional representation they still gained over 12% of the vote, making them a threat according to Sartori. They all point to an fractured political system that is broken and in crisis, further still all three election results pose the risk that this is to continue.
There is significance in the fact we have had 2 elections in the last 5 years, more so the latter election, as it has un-earthed an environment where every time a Prime Minister faces an uphill struggle to pass a land-mark policy, there are calls for them to resign. In Spain, as the Socialist Government’s budget fails to pass, a general election has been called for the 28th April. I can only think back to the famous clip from Bristol in 2017, when a BBC reporter’s question on whether we will return to the polls was met with the response, ‘you’re joking, another one, I can’t stand this.’ Which is true, voter fatigue exists, and the instability caused by constant elections is not only bad for business, but also for faith in democracy. In recent times I have supported calling a general election, particularly as the catastrophic mishandling of Brexit has unfolded, yet it is against this mindset that Sartori warns, hence I recognise the dangers. Any attempts to break this cycle, of election after election will meet significant challenges, as opposition party’s continually present the answer to the problem. This in combination with the fact that parties are increasingly polarised and are more likely to use the power of veto, make for turbulent times in U.K. politics. The Italian electorate are all too familiar with this cycle, they’ve had 61 different Prime Ministers since the end of the 2nd World War. The political system in Britain is crumbling, Sartori tells us that more democracy is unlikely to heal this. It may pay off to listen.
Seb Chromiak is Deputy Editor-in-Chief at TPN.