Sat, 24 February 2024

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ANALYSIS: Are we really witnessing the end of two-party politics?

3 min read

It was perhaps fitting that, on his last day in the job, John Humphrys managed to extract two great news lines from Tony Blair and David Cameron.

The former Prime Ministers now seem like politicians from a bygone age, and not just because - unlike Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn - they are willing to subject themselves to a grilling on Radio 4's flagship programme.

Their whole philosophies - a determination that their respective parties should appeal beyond their base to as much of the electorate as possible - are almost quaint at a time of political polarisation.

With an opinion poll this morning showing the Lib Dems in second place, and with the Tories and Labour barely scoring 50% support between them, Humphrys asked Blair whether two-party politics in the UK was coming to an end. His answer was instructive.

"One of the things that troubles me most about politics today is I can’t tell you the number of young people, in their 20s and 30s, really intelligent young people, politically committed, - a) they’ve got no home and b) they look at the state of the two main parties and say: ‘I couldn’t join either of them'.

"It doesn’t matter what I say, what anyone else says. You only have to look at the Liberal Democrats now and their party conference. For the first time in long time, they are looking a much more serious group of people. Why is that? Because people have come from the Labour party, come from the Conservative party, and they have got a coherent argument. If I was the two main parties at the moment, I would worry about that."

Asked if the Lib Dem argument was one that he agreed with, the man who won three elections for Labour, replied: "It is an argument I agree with. I’m very tribally and deeply attached to the Labour party. But if over a long period of time someone from outside your political party is making an argument you think is more sensible, it starts to pull you in the opposite direction."

Just Labour's most successful ever leader admitting he's toying with the idea of becoming a Lib Dem, no big deal.

Then we had Cameron refusing to rule out not voting Tory at the next election if the Government ends up going for a no-deal Brexit.

"Well I’m a Conservative through and through," he told Humphrys. "But I think a no-deal outcome is a very bad one.

"As far as I can see, Parliament has blocked that avenue and I think therefore Boris’ choice is really to get that deal, to bring it back and try to move forward from there."

Two former Prime Ministers failing to rule out supporting parties other than their own. Not a bad final morning's work for Humphrys.

If all that wasn't intriguing enough, George Eaton's excellent profile of Tom Watson for the New Statesman is also a marmalade-dropper.

Buried in the piece is the following quote from Michael Dugher, the former Labour MP and still a close friend of the party's deputy leader.

"If you’d said to me two years ago, would Tom ever countenance doing anything with the Lib Dems, I would have said ‘no chance’. Now I’d say ‘who knows?’”

Watson, not normally slow to highlight journalistic inaccuracies, has remained noticeably silent since the article was published.

Does all this mean that the long-discussed historic realignment of British politics - in which the Lib Dems hoover up Tory wets and Labour centrists - is just around the corner? Of course not.

But if it is going to happen, it is hard to think of the prevailing political weather ever being this welcoming again.


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