Political Convergence

7 mins read

When the Labour Party emerged in 1900, strong political ideologies and identities arose within Britain and the rivalry between the two main parties began.

However, in the past hundred years, Britain has seen considerable political party convergence. So, why has this happened? And how will it shape the 2015 General Election?

Brig has spoken to two voters of different ages, backgrounds and political interests to ask their opinions on the subject. David Malcolm is a retired General-Practitioner with many years voting experience, and Alex Frost-Head is a third year Stirling University student studying PPE.

So this particular story begins at the start of the twentieth century, when Britain had two main opposing parties who represented very different demographics and who protected conflicting values and initiatives.

The Conservative Party was considered the party of traditional Victorian and Edwardian ideals and social and political systems. It represented the wealthier and educated middle or upper class and bent policy to suit their needs.

However, the Labour Party, as the name suggests, was rather different. It was dedicated to stimulating the rights and welfare of the mass working class. This included the many industrial workers who belonged to the mines, steel works, shipbuilding yards, factories and other trades which had built pre-Great War Britain.

Furthermore, the 1928 act which awarded the franchise to all men and women in Britain meant that political parties had a wider range of people to impress and symbolise and could no longer restrict themselves to fraternising with an acute social group.

But as time continued and with the end of the Second World War in 1945, British society began to reshape and redefine itself, and political parties had to likewise mould to reflect their changing voters.

For example, the war years had reduced the country’s economy and the industries began to close down and continued to do so until the mining trade began to falter in the 1980s and 90s.

As a result more people were attending University and the learned and more affluent middle class began to grow and their political and social needs changed to echo their post-University lifestyles.

Consequently, over the tail end of the twentieth century and especially into the twenty-first century, the two main political parties and the many others who emerged, became more and more like identical twins because they needed to relate to a nation that was moving away from extreme spectrums and towards what sociologists call a salad-bowl society.

For example, David Malcolm notes that Dennis Healey of the Labour Party had been a graduate of Baliol College Oxford, whereas John Major of the Conservative Party came from a working class background and his father even made garden gnomes. Likewise Margaret Thatcher may have had strict conservative views, but she was a woman and in the past her election to power would have been impossible.

This shows that even within the two main parties themselves, changing times had allowed a more diverse range of people to engage with active politics and both parties could potentially attract voters from any demographic.

This is perhaps why in 1997, Labour moved into, ‘New Labour,’ and David Malcolm notes that this was because, “Old Labour were unelectable and the Labour Party had to change.”

Alex Frost-Head added to this argument by saying, “Parties of old are losing their relevance as the class-based society is increasingly eroding. This is no bad thing, equality and opportunities regardless of background is something we should all aim for.”

However, David Malcolm also mentions that, “Although there has been an overall convergence between the two main parties in the past twenty years, there is more divergence as we have influential parties who are considered to be either single issue parties or tend more to the extremes. UKIP, Greens, SNP are examples.”

As a result, Britain now has multiple parties and even although some have a greater chance of winning the General Election than others, they are all still influencing and expressing British politics and British culture in 2015.

And how will this move towards convergence and more ideologically central political thought shape the 2015 General Election?

Alex Frost-Head voices the confusion of much of the nation when he said, “when…each party creates a manifesto with 3 quite tempting policies, it is kind of difficult to be dedicated to a singular party.”

Indeed, in 2015 it is no longer easy to detect or define the bold differences between the Labour and Conservative Parties. Their ideologies are somewhat the same.

In many ways Labour and Conservative share the Health, Housing, Education, Benefits and Financial manifestos of the other emerging parties as they all declare they want to support the rights and needs of the entire nation and one which is diverse.

It is certainly interesting to see how British politics has converged over the decades, and in many ways it is for the good. Society should be represented by those who if not understand, at least respect the welfare of everyone and not just a select group.

However, as these parties have evolved to meet our own merging society, it does make political party affiliation and personal identification much more challenging and will affect how strongly people connect to an MP and their party this General Election. Party similarity will not make decisions easier but will make it harder as voters chose how to cast their vote of loyalty and socio-political connection.

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