Political Parties, Public Trust and 'the Nation'

Both main political parties in the UK, Labour and Conservative, have seen their share of the total vote decline considerably. This can be set alongside evidence of falling turnouts in general elections and disillusion with politicians. When Labour won the general election of 1951, the two main parties won 96.8 % of the votes cast: when Labour won in 1997, they and the Conservatives polled 52.9 % of the votes cast (Kellner 2009). When the Conservatives (in a coalition) won in 2010, the share of the two parties added together was higher, at 65.1 %, and in 2015 the main parties’ share of the vote was 66.9 %. Nonetheless, this represents a dramatic change from their almost total domination of the political scene in 1951. Similarly, voter turnout at general elections has tended to decline since the Second World War. Although voter turnout was low in 1945, it was subsequently higher, with 83.9 % in 1950. After that it declined steadily, with only 1974 (February) and 1992 showing small reversals in the downward curve. By 2001 turnout had fallen as low as 59.4 %. There were recoveries to 61.4 and 65.1 % in the two successive elections (2005 and 2010), and in the most recent election of 2015 the two main parties shared almost 67 % of the vote. Nonetheless these two percentages are in the 60 to 70 % range; prior to 2001 all figures after the war had been in the 70 to 90 % range. If we take together the declines in voter turnout and the dramatic fall in the proportion of votes garnered by the two main parties in British politics, then we see that a party can form a government on a low percentage of support from the electorate. This is the present political situation in Britain—low turnout and low support for either Conservative or Labour Party. If Ezrow and Xezonakis are right (2014) and voter turnout can increase in the face of high political dissatisfaction, then the political space for third and fourth political parties could be very welcoming indeed, especially since the current ‘third party’ in British politics, the Liberal Democrats, enjoys very low public support.

As well as low turnout and low support for the two main parties, trust in politicians has been seen to be low, as indicated by opinion polls in the last decade. In 2009 a major scandal broke through the Daily Telegraph's exposure of irregularities and illegalities in politicians’ claims for expenses. Let us consider some recent evidence.

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