Well living in the Netherlands it is quite common to see parties come and go, where one party splits up and later merges to different parties as situation changes.

I keep reading that "internally there is a lot of struggle to get the same opinion within the British government". To me this means that the government is unable to continue ruling and is better of splitting up, where both sides can advocate their goal and thus focus better and actually achieve something.

Why is there no talk about this at all? Nor splinter groups gaining traction?

  • 3
    This is a very speculative question. It is also highly opinionated. I would recommend gearing the question more towards the differences between UK political parties and yours. Different countries operate their politics in radically different ways. – David S Dec 11 '18 at 18:24
  • 11
    The first past the post electoral system gives few seats to smaller parties. This tends to hold UK parties together. – mikado Dec 11 '18 at 18:56
  • Did you consider the possibility that the actual disagreement is with you, on what is "the most important topic"? And that they do agree on what they think is most important? – Ben Voigt Dec 12 '18 at 4:13
  • 1
    @sleske, the only seats UKIP has ever won in the HoC were actually won by ex-Conservatives. The only UKIP peer, Baron Grantley, is also ex-Conservative. Whilst it's not true in any literal sense, there is a valid joke that UKIP's only "real politicians" are tory defectors. – ymbirtt Dec 12 '18 at 14:14
  • 2
    Thinking a bit more deeply about UKIP, I recall an argument that one of the main reasons behind Brexit was that UKIP were not only poaching Conservative politicians, they were also managing to split the voter base. Euroskepticism was one of UKIP's big draws, so the argument goes that then-leader Cameron saw that offering an in/out referendum would be an easy way to win those voters back. He lived up to his word, ran the referendum, and, well, you know the rest. UKIP probably are quite relevant in a discussion about Conservative splinter groups. – ymbirtt Dec 12 '18 at 14:29

A common answer to this is that the UK uses a "First Past the Post"(FPTP) voting system (where each individual MP is elected from a constituency election, where most votes wins), whereas the Netherlands uses a form of list based proportional representation (PR). In each of these election there is a strong spoiler effect, where multiple similar candidates are likely to lose to an individual with united support, whereas in PR a party evenly dividing would expect to have the two new parties retaining approximately the same number of total seats.

The FPTP voting system also makes it much easier for a single party to win a parliamentary majority compared to PR, since it doesn't need an absolute majority in vote share (in recent history, figures around 40% have been enough).

Together these two phenomena encourage long-lasting, stable parties, since actually splintering can wipe out a party's seat count remarkably quickly. An even stronger effect is seen in the US, where politics has effectively reduced to a two party system for virtually its entire history. There is even a political science rule of thumb called Duverger's law which states this to be a general principle of FPTP versus PR.

  • 25
    Side note: "long-lasting, stable parties" may not necessarily be a good thing. – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Dec 11 '18 at 23:17
  • 4
    @Draco18s since I believe in a direct democracy as utopia, and everything should be done to get closer to that utopia, I agree with that sentiment. Smaller parties are closer to what the public thinks. -- However that is an opinion that is up for debate. – paul23 Dec 11 '18 at 23:45
  • 2
    I think it might also be worth mentioning that, in the specific case of the UK, the two main parties can at least make a case for being able to trace their origins all the way back to the Whigs and Tories of the 17th century. Given the importance of tradition in British society, breaking up these parties would probably be a far greater deal than breaking up the two main parties in other European states. – terdon Dec 12 '18 at 0:18
  • 8
    America's FPTP system not only causes a two-party system unintentionally, it forces the equilibrium rather quickly. Duverger's Law is so powerful there that third parties are doomed to be merely spoilers for the foreseeable future. – Michael W. Dec 12 '18 at 0:38
  • 17
    @terdon Not quite. Labour being a left wing party building essentially on Marx’ theories is quite a bit younger than Whigs and Tories. The Tories indeed descend down from their original 17th century counterparts while what remains of the Whigs are the Liberal Democrats. – Jan Dec 12 '18 at 2:07

Splintering is death.

The FPTP system guarantees that if two broadly similar parties run candidates in the same seats, they will both be defeated. Effectively the only way that different parties can survive in this ecosystem is to be geographically separated so they don't run against each other. That's a big part of why we see different parties in the other three nations from England, but England is homogenised among two-and-a-half parties.

The last time this was seriously tried was the SDP (due to, inter alia, Europe again). That fizzled out.

There is an argument to be made that UKIP are effectively an external splinter group of the Conservative party. There's a certain amount of traffic between the two, such as disgraced "cash for questions" former MP Neil Hamilton. However UKIP have also picked up some of the even more fringe right people from the EDL and even the NF.

UKIP did a lot better in the European Parliament elections, which are run on the D'Hondt system. (It seems to be part of the unwritten constitution that no two different elected positions in the UK should be run on the same system - we have STV and AMS as well in places!)

The Cameron referendum was supposed to "settle the question" by giving them the referendum which they would lose, quelling rebellion within the Tory party. This backfired badly.

Nonetheless, almost everyone in the party understands: as the united Tory party they are the natural party of governance of England, with the support of the Tory press, regardless of how bad a job they do, provided that Labour can be made out to be a socialist threat. If they split they will be out of power for a generation, until one faction electorally or otherwise obliterates the other. Hence they must hang on like grim death and continue to work with people they have almost total ideological disagreement with and personal hatred for.

(The same also applies to the Labour party, which also has vicious internal divisions over both Europe and Corbynism vs. Blairism, which is why it's not really a functioning opposition at the moment)


As others have pointed out, the FPTP system makes it extremely difficult for a new, small party to win seats. Also the process of forming a new party and building up grass-roots support and local party apparatus takes years. For reference, see the history of the Social Democratic Party - a centrist party that split off from the Labour Party in 1981. It later formed an alliance with the then Liberal Party, and in 1988 the two parties merged to form the current Liberal Democrats.


As @pjc50 points out the Labour Party is also currently somewhat divided. There have been calls on twitter and elsewhere for a government of national unity as the best way forward. It seems that at least three prominent Conservative MPs - Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Nicholas Soames - support this.


  • 1
    The "government of national unity" is quite a dangerous idea when there's very little national unity available. It would infuriate a lot of supporters of both parties, and it's rather hard for the tories to ask for it after years of smearing Corbyn as a Marxist "threat to national security". It would have to absorb all the denunciations of betrayal from the press if it cancelled Brexit, or the chaos if it lets Brexit happen. – pjc50 Dec 12 '18 at 15:57
  • 2
    @pjc50 While I voice my own opinion there, if there is no national unity a country should be split up into two independent countries each with their own identiy and own situation. This doesn't have to result in animosity, just look at say Netherlands and Belgium, or indeed the US and the UK. The whole "we need to stay together" idea that currently circulates politics is a mystery for me. – paul23 Dec 12 '18 at 17:46
  • 1
    @paul23 (one of) The most common dividing line(s) in modern politics is urban vs rural. Its not really practical for a country to divide based on that. – mbrig Dec 12 '18 at 18:48
  • 2
    @paul23 I seem to remember there being a fair bit of animosity between the US and UK at the time. – eyeballfrog Dec 12 '18 at 19:51
  • 1
    @paul23 while I'm in favour of an independent Scotland and a united Ireland, the Brexit divisions run horizonally across society - no geographical partition is possible. – pjc50 Dec 12 '18 at 21:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .