In Depth

Britain's return to two-party politics

Whatever happens on Thursday, one thing is certain - this election will remembered for the polarisation of UK politics

While polls for tomorrow's general election vary wildly, they all suggest the UK's two main political parties are on course to win 80 per cent of votes between them, more than in any other election in 40 years.

"The uptick reverses a trend which has lasted for decades," says Buzzfeed. The combined vote share of the country's two biggest parties fell from more than 90 per cent in the 1950s to around 65 per cent in recent elections.

Why has this happened?

"Mostly this is because the smaller parties are becoming less popular," Steve Fisher, associate professor of political sociology at Oxford University, told Buzzfeed.

Ukip won 12.5 per cent of the vote at the 2015 general election, but its support has since collapsed and it is struggling to articulate a purpose after the EU referendum, particularly with Theresa May taking a hard line on Brexit.

In addition, the anticipated Lib Dem surge has failed to materialise. "Part of this has been attributed to the acceptance by many Remain voters that Brexit is going to happen," says the Financial Times, while polling also suggests the party is still suffering the effects of entering into a coalition with the Tories in 2010.

The Greens "look largely irrelevant since they no longer outflank Labour on the Left while their key policies, such as rail nationalisation, have been plundered by their rival", says CapX. A lack of charismatic leadership in the Lib Dems and Ukip and a first-past-the post electoral system that fails to translate popular support into seats have also contributed to the dwindling support for smaller parties, it adds.

But, says Molly Kiniry in the Daily Telegraph, this is only half the story. The collapse of Ukip has been good for May, she says, "but the rise of the Tories has been matched by the rise of a more united Left – cleaving the country in two along ideological lines".

The Prime Minister has positioned herself in direct opposition to Labour's Jeremy Corbyn, "encouraging an us-versus-them mentality" reminiscent of a US presidential campaign while "trying to squeeze different constituency groups into two parties, with the result that the moderate-minded participants – like Labour's Blairites – lose out".

Earlier elections were fought for control of the centre ground, but the increasingly polarised positions of Labour and the Conservatives have, says Buzzfeed, "allowed both parties to pick up the votes they'd lost on their own fringes".

Labour is once again "the home of angry protest votes once lost to the Greens while the Tories soak back up millions of votes taken from them by Ukip", says CapX.

The party has also benefited from the weak polling numbers of the left-of-centre fringe parties "as some voters are deciding the only way to minimise the size of May's majority is a vote for Labour", says Buzzfeed.

Is the shift back permanent?

Labour and the Conservatives should not assume that this year's resurgence marks the beginning of a new era of two-party dominance, Professor Thom Brooks of the University of Durham told the Financial Times.

"If a strong personality appears, like Emmanuel Macron, who is rooted in a big political party, standing above it, they could attract crowds," he said. "Society is very sceptical and cynical about mainstream parties, people are looking for some change. There is room on the political stage for a Macron-style victory."

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