A party system is whereby a number of political parties exist in a particular country and these systems can be divided into four categories: the single-party system, the dominant party system, the two-party system and lastly the multi-party system. These systems are always evolving within a country and hence are not static. This therefore gives rise to changes in party systems and between 1970 and 2001 I believe that there has been diminutive change in the party system in Britain for the following reasons.
Initially during the era of 1970 – 1979 as indicated by the data, there is adequate evidence to suggest that Britain pursued in the manner of a two-party system. This can be illustrated from the data as for a two- party system to exist; there must be a supremacy from two distinct parties in respect to the percentage votes cast and number of seats gained during an election compared to other parties.
This means that all these other parties in relation to the two dominant parties, must have a trivial impact and significance to the percentage of votes cast and the number of seats gained, so that not to interfere or upset the two-party system balance. From the data the following statistics confirm this: "During 1970 the Conservatives gained 46. 4% of the votes whilst in comparison Labour gained 3. 4% less than the Conservatives at 43%. Also in terms of seats there is no major distinction as Conservatives gained 330 of the seats whilst Labour gained 287 which is only 43 less seats.
The other parties such as the Lib Dems gained an unthreatening 2. 5% of the votes and only a minuscule 6 seats, which if inferior to the two leading parties. " This pattern of dominance and closeness in figures between the two parties proceeds throughout 1970 – 1974 where both parties battle to aim to win the election. During this time frame Labour wins the first two elections followed by Conservatives in 1979. Hence there is an apparent dominance of two parties as oppose to one or many which suggests that during this time period Britain pursued as a two party system.
However during 1979 there was a slight variation as there is a minute discrepancy in statistical figures between the two parties as the distinction between the Labour and Conservative parties are not so small. From the data the following can be distinguished: "In terms of percentage votes gained, the Conservatives gained 43. 9% of the vote whereas Labour in comparison gained a significant 7% difference of 36. 9%. Similarly in terms of seats there is again a huge statistical gap between the figures, in that the Conservatives gained 339 of the seats and Labour gained a large 70 less seats at 269.
" It can be perceived and argued that perhaps 1979 marked the beginning of an era of a dominant-party system, as when looking at the 1983 – 1987 figures they superficially confirm this conception. However there are some flaws, which do not entirely coincide with this conception, and both arguments are discussed in the following. During the period of 1983 – 1987 there is evidently an immense decline in seats for Labour compared to the Conservatives, which could in turn be superficially seen as an era of a dominance – party system.
Confirmation to verify that this may be the case at a superficial level is that from the data the following can be denoted. From the data: " In 1983 the Conservatives gained 42. 4% of the votes which was an enormous 14. 8% higher than Labour who only gained 27. 6% of the votes. In terms of seats there is again a great vital difference as the Conservatives gained 397 of the seats whilst Labour gained 188 seats less than the Conservatives at 209. "
These statistics give the misconception that the Conservatives are a dominant party as they had won both elections during this time period and also previous to that they had also won the 1979 election. Hence they fit the criteria for being crowned as the dominant party as they had won three consecutive elections and were winning a majority of seats and votes. However one can argue that the Conservatives did not reach party dominance and force Britain to adopt a dominant-party system, as the Conservatives during this era did not suit all the criteria to being titled as a dominant party.
This was because they never during this time achieved over 50% of the vote so in fact they were not a dominant party in this sense. Also the spread of conservatism did not reach all regions, and for conservatives to have gained dominance, all regions would have had to support them, as in Scotland, Wales, and generally in the north they did not gain support. Hence there are weaknesses and flaws in the case for dominance for the Conservatives during the 1980s. After 1987 through to 2001 the Conservative seat majority began to decline.
In 1992 there was clear and distinct evidence to imply that the two-party system was definitely engaged as the data supports this in that in 1992 the gap in figures between Labour and the Conservatives was not that huge and there was a slow regaining balance between the two parties. From the data: " the Conservative gained 41. 9% of the vote whilst Labour gained 34. 4% which was 7. 5% less than the Conservatives. Similarly in terms of seats the Conservatives gained 336 of the seats whilst Labour gained 271. "
During 1997 – 2001 Labour seemingly appeared to be in the same position as the Conservatives were during the mid 80s. Some may claim that the Labour party were and are heading towards an era of dominance, but it is too early to predict, as there is insufficient data to support this statement. Also although during this time period Labour now have the majority of seats and votes, it can also be argued that it has not reached dominance as they have not yet gained over 50% of the vote and have not yet gained support from all regions in the UK such as the South East.
However compared to the Conservatives in the 1980s Labour is now more national than Thatcherism was. The Liberal Democrats are gradually becoming more significant and important in terms of seats as in 1992 they gained 17. 8% of the votes and 20 seats but by 1997 with less votes at 17% they gained more seats of 46. Some may say that the significance of the Lib Dems makes a case for a two and a half – party system. To conclude from 1979 – 2001 generally Britain had pursued a two-party system.
However there are certain periods during this time frame where lapses and variations occur and it could be argued that these lapses often concurred with a dominant-party system, whilst others believe that this could not have been the case due to insufficient criteria being fulfilled. Lastly periods in British politics are never long-term so it is hard to predict whether Britain will continue to follow a two-party system or whether it will convert to another system.