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Breaking Duopoly: An inflection point for Britain?

Yesterday, Dan Sillett wrote a brilliantly articulated column in which he argued that, due to such a lack of a viable alternative to bring about ‘change’ in the United Kingdom, you should give your vote to the Tories in the upcoming general election. Now I respect Dan as a good friend and colleague, I know his political affiliations, and, honestly, it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man and his party at present. But whilst I wholeheartedly understand where he is coming from, I have to fundamentally disagree. There is no parallel universe I can think of in which voting for the Conservatives, this time around, could bring about any change. Consider this article a rebuttal to his column.

Whilst Sillett was right to critique Nigel Farage and Reform UK’s rather bullish polling claims that, by virtue of being ahead in one poll, they are now the ‘opposition’ to Labour, it fundamentally overlooks the crucial role smaller parties are playing at this general election to challenge the duopoly. Those who read my Sunday columns will know how much disdain I have for both Labour and the Conservatives. For far too long, the two parties have dominated British politics, evidently stifling innovation and neglecting critical issues. 

The emergence and trajectory of Reform UK fundamentally shakes up the stagnant political landscape, and offers alternative policies and perspectives that challenge the status quo. Just look at the seven-way debates. Nigel Farage has unequivocally dominated both debates, and quite frankly, shown up Labour as much as he has the Tories. Crucially, the repositioning of Reform UK could prove indispensable in providing a much-needed check and balance on the future Labour government. 

It is clear that Starmer and his hindsight henchmen will be in government come July 5th, but in no way, shape, or form must this election grant them a blank check. An unwieldy Labour supermajority could quite possibly be the death of this country. Labour’s manifesto is depressingly lacking any ambition or bold vision to give the United Kingdom the political, social, and economic reform it is crying out for. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Starmer is not the second coming of Blair. This is No Plan Labour, not New Labour. Things, in this instance, can only get worse. 

The rise of Farage’s Reform is sure to pick up serious votes in the postindustrial North and Midlands, traditional heartlands Labour have taken for granted. Many Labour voters are disenchanted, and share the same societal concerns that Reform espouses. How any Brexit voter in the red wall can find the stomach to vote for Keir ‘People’s Vote’ Starmer, I do not know. If the BBC affords Farage the opportunity to debate Starmer and Sunak, we could see the polling look a lot different. I argued a couple weeks ago that Farage’s return was a cat amongst the pigeons. Farage versus Sunak and Starmer in a televised debate would be an uncensored showing of a hungry fox given a free pass into the chicken coop. Whilst it may be early for Farage to conclude himself as the opposition to Labour, Starmer should not be comfortable. 

With both the Tories and Labour losing points in the polls, Reform remains bullish. If the current momentum is anything to go by, within days Reform could comfortably be polling above 20%. The narrative perpetuated by the Tories that a vote for Reform is a vote for Labour, and that they won’t win any seats. Labour seem more realistic in their approach to facing Reform head on. Anything over 24% and Reform could, in fact, be the Opposition with over a hundred seats. You can hear the teeth chattering in CCHQ from all the way from up here in the West Midlands. 

As for Sillett’s assertions that Farage has no real desire to become a parliamentarian, I could not disagree more. The man represented his country, represented his constituent’s concerns, in the European Parliament for 21 years. I know the convenient narrative of his City trader background will always crop up, to show how he’s not a representative of the working man and actually only seeks self-furtherance. But this couldn't be ‘further’ from the truth. You don’t give up a successful career in the City to effectively run a pressure group for a decade, and have perennial attempts at Westminster elections, if you don’t care.  Face it, Farage is back and it has the establishment worried.  

It is not just Reform who presents itself as an alternative to the duopoly. Voters are, as evidenced by the polls, increasingly considering supporting the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party for their distinct policy platforms. I agree with Sillett that the Lib Dems are particularly lacklustre, hiding behind Ed Davey’s cringeworthy gimmicks, but their manifesto offers at least some vision, and that’s been reflected in polling since its launch. The Greens, too, offer some vision for change in their manifesto, but their accommodation of antisemitic and sectarian candidates focused more on issues in Gaza than in their own country is cause for concern. Either way, the increased support for non-duopoly parties across the political spectrum is pleasing to see. The electorate is waking up, and taking votes off of both the Tories and Labour in the process. 

The increase in support for Reform, the Lib Dems, and the Greens shows, above all, that we live in a pluralist society and that first-past-the-post is not fit for purpose. This election should serve as a stark reminder of this. Diverse political voices should be afforded the representation they deserve. The presence of multiple parties polling strongly challenges the notion of a binary choice between Labour and the Conservatives. If we were to embrace this pluralism, we can enrich our ever-increasingly polarised political discourse, and promote accountability and responsiveness within the Labour-Tory duopoly. I’m not saying a vote for the Greens, Lib Dems, Reform, or other smaller parties will get them into power - it most probably won’t - but it will serve to highlight the failings of the two-party system in our modern society and emphasise the need for reform. 

The unprecedented multiparty nature of this election underscores the urgent need for proportional representation. Our current system leads often to disproportionate outcomes and fails to accurately reflect the diverse political views of the electorate. I remind readers of UKIP’s 2015 election result, netting just under four million votes nationwide, with only one seat in parliament. Proportional representation would ensure that less entrenched parties have a fair chance to gain representation in Parliament, and would force the duopoly of Labour and the Conservatives to be innovative, efficient, and adaptable. They certainly wouldn’t treat the electorate with such contempt if it wasn’t a shoe-in every election. 

I accept Sillett’s sentiments. They are wholly understandable. But I implore you, the voter, not to be scared into voting negatively because of our two-party, first-past-the-post system. Voting for what you hate least is bad for democracy. A vote for the Conservatives reinforces their ability to treat the electorate with contempt. A vote for Labour, by virtue of them not being the Tories, gives a dangerous blank check to a party whose only policy it seems  to be is to oppose the government. What will they do once they're in government? A vote for Reform, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, or independents en masse, however, would help showcase the need for electoral reform in this country and, pertinently, would force both Labour and the Conservatives to rethink their policies and approach. This could finally give us the proper governance we so desperately need. Judging by the polls, that inflection point may be imminent. 

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