I’m at a conference in California. (My boy is on the Mall with his uncle, watching the bombers fly low overhead. I would rather be there. “Shall we go to the airplane store and buy a B-24?” ) My colleague, Victor Menaldo, a Queens native currently resident in Seattle, bemoaned the state of party politics in the U.K.
Victor: “Political science has given one insightful rule to the world and those damned Brits have to go and break it.”
The rule to which Victor refers is Duverger’s law, which states that democracies that vote by geographical district where the biggest vote-getter wins will have two-party systems. The reason is that voters won’t want to waste their votes on no-hopers, so third parties will struggle.
Canada and India had already weakened the law, although political scientists could finagle them in by claiming both were characterized by regional duopolies, the exceptions being when one duopoly was replaced with another. (As may be the case in the recent Alberta election, for example.) But the damned U.K. persisted in having more than two major parties.
But now the voters have had their say, and they wiped out the third parties in England! (In Scotland, they appear to have wiped out the second party as well.) The Conservatives won 41% of the vote and 60% of the seats. Labor Labour got 32% of the vote and 39% of the seats. That is 99% of the seats between them.
As for smaller parties? UKIP got 14% and one seat, the Greens 4% and one seat, and the Lib Dems 8% and 6 seats.
The first real question is whether the Liberal Democrats can survive. My guess is yes, they have a de facto duopoly in their surviving constituencies, but they have also hit their high-water mark.
Consider the following data. Of 2.1 million Liberal Democratic votes across England, only 112,913 of them were cast in constituencies where the Liberal Democrat won. 95% of votes were wasted. Now, they remain competitive in many of the 47 constituencies that they lost, so their English voters may not decide the party is a lost cause. But they have been hit. And flip side of a potential return to office in 47 constituencies is that they are quite vulnerable in four of their remaining seats: to Labour in Leeds NW and Sheffield Hallam; to the Conservatives in Southport, Norfolk North and Carshalton and Wallington. Which means that they are vulnerable to a swing towards either party unless they can re-energize their base elsewhere.
Unless they can find a way back into government in 2020, then Duverger’s law predicts the long-term decline of the Liberal Democrats.
For UKIP, the numbers were even worse: of 3.6 million UKIP voters nationwide, only 19,642 voters cast ballots for the one winning candidate in Clacton: 99% wasted votes. Moreover, at least the Lib Dems have a history of showing that they can win outside their current 6-seat English redoubt. UKIP does not have that.
Duverger’s law therefore predicts that the UKIP vote should melt down by the next election.
The same logic holds for the Greens. If Duverger’s is correct, then they should have hit their high-water mark.
And of course the defectors should be going to the two major parties. So their share of the English vote should rise from 72%.
So let this blog take a risk and vote for Duverger’s! We say that England returns to two-party politics. (To be honest, I am actually doubtful that Duverger’s is correct, but I will take a stand for my buddy Victor!)
Hold us to account, readers! Or tell us why we’re wrong.