We need a new language for our new multiparty politics – for example, the Left has almost certainly won this General Election.

Media discussion of the General Election is still couched firmly in two-party language – have the Tories or Labour ‘won’. This is very misleading in our new multi-party politics and we need to start thinking about using different language to talk about who has won and lost.

On the continent, where multi-party politics is the norm, discussion of who won and lost is more often framed in the language of ‘left’ and ‘right’, and then of which parties have gained or lost within each ‘camp’. These camps are lose categories, but useful for thinking about how popular opinion and the outturn in seats has gone.

If we apply this terminology to Britain then it is pretty clear that the ‘left’ will have won the General Election if the polls are broadly right. So who is ‘left’ and who ‘right’.

The ‘left’ would include Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, Greens, SDLP and Sinn Fein (even tho they don’t take their seats.

The ‘right’ would clearly include the Tories, UKIP, and DUP.

Let’s take the Lib gems at their word and say they sit bang in the middle.

Here is the Guardian’s current projection – most of the polls are not that different that it makes a difference to the point I am making here.


On these numbers it is crystal clear that the ‘left’ would have won the Election – 329 to 288 (Cons, UKIP and DUP). These numbers might shift a bit on the day, but overcoming a gap of over 40 MPs seems highly unlikely (35 if you exclude SF).

Now think about the discussion that somehow the Conservatives ‘have the right to govern’ if they are the largest party. What people pushing this line are really saying is that we should have a right of centre Government for a country that clearly voted a majority of left of centre MPs? Does that seriously make any sense, whatever the details of deals, coalitions or arrangements or not that emerge?

I’d be interested to know what others think – but if the polls are right we are going to have to rethink how we talk about winning and losing in British politics.

2 thoughts on “We need a new language for our new multiparty politics – for example, the Left has almost certainly won this General Election.

  1. I think we also need to get beyond “Left and Right”? These terms are more often used to alienate and don’t get to the real values that people are operating by. Values which in themselves have become far more complex as social and economic structures have evolved and globalised. We’ve seen endorsements of Labour using a “it’s about values” tagline… But which? and how to condense into a catchy sound-bite?!
    (Maybe the parliament refurbishment should also dispense with just 2 sides to the house….)

  2. It makes sense, particularly when you consider that Mr Cameron is aggressively pushing the line that ‘A vote for the other parties (i.e not Tories) is a vote for Ed Miliband’. His own words suggest that the majority of voters will have voted consciously to keep him out. Furthermore, given that he will have lost many seats, how can he logically claim that he has been vindicated and is more legitimate that a Labour party which will have gained seats and is supported by a majority of MPs?

    The problem is that only one side of the two competing ‘political legitimacy’ (as opposed to ‘constitutional legitimacy’) arguments is likely to get any hearing in much of the press.

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