UK General Election: Victory of Two-Partism or Move to Polarized Pluralism System?

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2016-60-12-51-61

S. Shein, Perm’ State National Research University (PSU), 15, Bukireva Str., Perm’ 614990, Russian Federation ( 

Abstract. The article explores the British general election 2015 in close connection with institutional and political transformation of the United Kingdom. At first sight, the election results – the conservative majority government – correspond with a two-party system, traditional for Westminster democracy. But the analysis of the election results leads to conclusion that the party system configuration is changing. The Conservative Party won not only because of the “first-past-the-post” electoral system which enhanced the first party's number of seats, but due to complex factors: satisfactory results of the coalition government’s economic policy and a successful electoral campaign. An important moment for the Conservatives' victory was the political context. The growth of political actors such as SNP and UKIP threatened the Labourists’ support among Scottish electorate and low-skilled white working class in England. The election recorded that center-left parties were defeated, whereas protest parties, both left and right ones, increased their share of votes significantly. So, it reflected the rising fragmentation and polarization of the party system. Sartori’s typology as applied to the election results shows that Britain undergoes a transition process to a polarized pluralism system. British political practice confirms the key features of this type: growth of anti-system parties, bilaterial opposition to government and centrifugal tendencies. The prime explanation of the contradictory election results is the institutional framework. A majority election system restrains multipartism at the parliamentary level by reproducing a dualistic party competition in constituencies. The ongoing devolution, in turn, has led to regionalization of electoral behavior, which increases the percentage of votes for regional parties (Scottish National Party in Scotland, United Kingdom Independence Party in England) and promotes multipartism. Brexit as another "institutional shock" and a manifestation of the conflict between center and periphery has an impact on the British party system. The results of the referendum play the regions one off against another, thereby giving new urgency to the problem of ethnic separatism and encouraging the further development of the multiparty system. On this basis, the current institutional system favors regional actors that receive a double gain. Today, the development of the institutional structure enhances disproportion in political representation, imbalance in inter-regional relations and the separatist risk. The British political class faces a complex set of problems, as far as the country is undergoing a period of a profound transformation of its political system and needs an adaptation to these processes.

Keywords: elections, parties, party system, political institutions, devolution, majority electoral system, United Kingdom 


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For citation:
Shein S. UK General Election: Victory of Two-Partism or Move to Polarized Pluralism System?. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2016, vol. 60, no. 12, pp. 51-61.

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