Britain has been rocked by eight major electoral contests in the last nine years. Four general elections, two referendums on Scotland’s independence and European Union membership and two sets of European Parliament elections have pushed one of the world’s oldest and historically most stable democracies into a period of churn and change.
The Brexit wars in particular offer us the chance to get a read on the seismic shifts that are pushing Britain into a state of realignment.
Realignments in British politics have been generally rare: Most recently, infighting on the left in the 1980s led to a breakaway party and, eventually, the rise of New Labour and Tony Blair. Today, Britain is in the grip of another realignment, one that is rooted in something else entirely: a new cultural divide.
The cultural issues — related mostly to immigration and ethnic change — are also reconfiguring American politics.
In Britain, rather than focus on just the Conservative and the Labour Parties, let’s first step back and look at two broad blocs, which we’ll call left and right. The left encompasses the main opposition Labour Party and the progressive Liberal Democrats and the Greens. The right encompasses the Conservatives and the populist right, which has been represented by the far-right British National Party, the U.K. Independence Party of Nigel Farage and, more recently, the Brexit Party.
The left and right have been fairly stable and evenly matched over the past decade, a picture that looks a lot like American politics (we exclude Scotland and Northern Ireland, which make up less than 10 percent of Britain’s population).
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