Traditionally, winning elections has been an aim of political parties subordinate to representing political views. However, more recently parties have been adjusting their ideology, possibly to make them more desirable to the majority of the electorate and thus gain political office. As suggested by McKie, recent elections have been "less between competing philosophies, much more about which set of managers was likely to get better results".
Both Labour, and the Conservatives have moved considerably towards the centre of the political spectrum in the past couple of decades, and if there are fundamental differences between the two parties, then at least one of them is failing to reflect properly the concerns of the middle ground voter. This convergence of party ideology is most probably a move by both parties to make them more attractive to middle England. It is perhaps now only extremist parties that are intent on representing political principles, and this may be a reason for the recent rise in popularity of parties such as the BNP.
In the last election, 57% of manifesto pledges for the main parties were non-partisan and couldn't be countered be other parties, this is a mark of the lack of choice the electorate is presented with and illustrates how parties are no longer representing strong political views with each party catering for a different section of society. In 1992 all three major parties were pro-Maastricht, which proves that parties are just pursuing policies that will appeal to the majority of the electorate.
Labour used to represent the views of the working class, and their ideology was distinctly socialist, but under Tony Blair, and previously Neil Kinnock, Labour has tried to distance itself from its core supporters and trade unions, as that relationship was a vote loser. This reinvention of Labour ideology has been very prominent in recent issues such as Labour's intransigence in not raising the salary for firemen and not having a good relationship with the Fire Brigades Union.
The reform of the party came after 17 years of Conservative rule, and it was accomplished by the abandonment of many of its distinctive policies that it had fought and lost of in previous elections. When Tony Blair dropped clause four, it was in order to change the party, and when party reform was fully complete, Labour returned to power. However, some of Labour's policy changes may have been due to the shrinking working class, which used to make up the majority of their support.
This change in social structure may also be attributable to the Conservative's move towards the centre, as social boundaries have shrunk, the middle class which they traditionally represented is not as easily defined anymore. In the period 1945-1979, policy differences between the two major parties were generally peripheral, and thus both major parties governed for roughly 17 years each. In the two elections where there were substantial and essential differences in social and economic policy (1945 & 1983), one of the two parties plunged to catastrophic defeat.
This was due to both parties projecting the party ideology through policy, thus effectively representing political principles even if it was not going to get them elected. However, there are still some policies that distinguish the major parties from each other. The parties set ideological goals in order to establish the best way to run the country; therefore parties are offering representation of the major strands of opinion.
Labour's electoral success is partly dependent upon offering a clear and distinctive vision of the nations future, their recent move away from the left has perhaps been in the interest of the electorate, and it would lose Labour political credibility if the electorate suspected that their new stance was the result of opportunistic caution. If one was to argue that political parties simply wished to get elected and this is why they have similar policy, then perhaps it should be questioned why there used to be a very distinct difference between the major parties. This can only be because of changing social structures mentioned previously.
Ultimately, there is no way of knowing whether parties simply wish to get elected rather than represent political principles. However, it is likely that getting elected is at the top of their agenda, and perhaps they wish to represent distinct principles when they are in power, however the current Labour government has been acting much like a Conservative government would on issues such as Iraq, and university tuition fees. This perhaps highlights the changing society that we live in which has different political needs than it has in the past century, and political parties have adapted to provide the best options for the electorates needs.