COMMENT: Have our main parties reached tipping point after EU poll collapse?

By Peter Madeley | Opinions | Published:

This country's traditional parties have been handed a wake up call in the European elections. How they respond will determine the future of the UK's two-party system.

Nigel Farage has tapped into public anger at the political elite

The dominance of the the two major parties in British politics is under threat as never before – and they only have themselves to blame.

For almost a century, Labour and the Conservatives have dominated proceedings at the general election ballot box, taking up the vast majority of seats and barely giving the minority parties a look in.

But the wind of change is blowing through, and the rapidly developing political scene in this country has opened up the possibility that one or both of them could suffer a fall from grace the next time the country heads to the polls to elect a government.

The Conservatives abject failure to deliver Brexit has poisoned the party of government, which as a result of infighting over its EU obsession has been largely unsuccessful in pretty much every other policy area.

When the legacy of the current administration is thoroughly examined in years to come, it will include an out-of-control violent crime rate, a cash-starved schools system bereft of basic resources, and sky-high NHS waiting times.

The fact that so many senior Tory MPs have been tripping over each other in the race to succeed Theresa May long before she announced her resignation date is another mark of shame against the party.

Labour has been equally shambolic in opposition, spectacularly failing to make any inroads under a leader who many of the party's MPs believe is unfit to be Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn


Under Jeremy Corbyn, the party has become embroiled in an unsavoury battle between moderates and the hard-left, and bogged down by allegations of bullying and anti-Semitism.

Some MPs have jumped ship, while the conflicted stance on Brexit between the party's leadership and MPs has been a perfect example of the levels of division.

It is hardly surprising that both parties, for the time being at least, have lost a significant amount of support to minority groups.

Nigel Farage's Brexit Party is the main beneficiary of the mess, thrown together at a moment's notice to tap into widespread public outrage over the weakness of the current Parliament.


Britain's faltering attempts to leave the EU may have opened up a wound at the heart of our politics, but it had been bubbling beneath the surface for years.

Indeed, the result of the referendum itself can be viewed as a clear message to the political elite that all was not well.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson are vying to be the next Prime Minister

It's just that they didn't bother to listen.

And it's not just over here where the status quo is under siege.

Glance across the Channel and as far as the eye can see traditional parties are no longer commanding the same levels of support they once did.

Italy has seen the rise of deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini's anti-immigration Lega Party, and in Hungary Prime Minister Victor Orbán has overseen a lurch to the right.

In Spain, the Eurosceptic Vox Party – which has called for a "reconquest" of the country and the expulsion of Muslim immigrants – secured 24 seats in Parliament at the last election; while in Germany the ultra nationalist Alternative fur Deutschland is the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag.

Across the continent Green parties are making gains, while hard-left Socialists have been buoyed by recent electoral successes in Spain, Finland and Sweden.

The US, of course, has Donald Trump.

The march against the mainstream will be reflected in the make-up of the new European Parliament, which after last night's results will see its two main groupings – the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) shrink in size.

Prior to the polls, populist parties already held around a third of the 750 seats.

Here in Britain, it is becoming abundantly clear that both Labour and the Conservatives need to regroup – it's just that neither party appears sure how to do it.

With Theresa May on the way out, centrist Tories have gone into panic mode over who her replacement will be.

Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd is so worried that she has launched a 'One Nation' caucus, warning against a national lurch towards "extremists" like Nigel Farage.

“The Brexit debate has led to politics recalibrating to a low expectation, with some politicians more interested in sound bites than sound debate,” she said, promising to bring “serious policy debate to the fore”.

While her intervention may well be aimed at stopping Boris Johnson from becoming Conservative leader, critics may point to her inept stint as Home Secretary, where she failed miserably on Windrush and achieved no notable successes.

For Labour, the only way that real change will be initiated appears to require a general election, where Mr Corbyn's failure – or success – will determine the party's future.

Only time will tell if the European elections will instigate genuine change in British political culture and the death of the two-party system, or administer the jolt required by the main parties to buck their ideas up.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.


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