This chapter analyses party competition in Britain from a systemic and long-term perspective. It explores how the party system has changed over time but continues to be dominated by the two major parties: the Conservatives and Labour. It examines the pendulum-like tendency of party vote shares and the causes of this phenomenon. The chapter examines how the party system, constitution, the electoral system and party adaptation protect the duopoly. It introduces the challenger parties that featured in the 2019 general election, albeit as supporting actors. Above all, it explains why, despite all the political tumult of the preceding years, the electorate in 2019 was ultimately faced with the familiar choice between a Conservative or Labour government, and why challenger parties – both old and new – continued to be held in check.
This book, the latest in the long-running Britain at the Polls series, tells the story of the remarkable 2019 general election and its outcome. As with previous volumes, the book provides general readers, students of British politics and professional political scientists with analyses of key political, economic and social developments, and an assessment of their impact on the election outcome. The book begins with an account of the 2017 Conservative minority government and how parliamentary deadlock thwarted Theresa May’s attempts to deliver on the 2016 Brexit referendum. It then analyses recent developments in the Conservative and Labour parties, as well as longer-term changes in the party system and voters’ values and identities, and how these laid foundations for the election outcome. After explaining why the Conservatives won a decisive majority under Boris Johnson, the book considers both the implications of the electoral realignment exposed by Brexit and the distinctiveness of Britain’s contemporary electoral politics.