One of the big advantages of a first past the post system of government is the electorate can sack an administration they do not like or is failing. The continental systems based on PR make it very difficult if not impossible for electorates to choose a government. The political parties and leaders do that once the result is known, through their negotiations over who will be in the coalition and what the coalition will stand for. In 1964, again in 1970 and again in 1979 the UK electorate voted for important changes in how they were governed, and did change the government.
It is an irony of our system that perhaps the biggest changes of government since 1979 have occurred through internal decisions of the two main parties. For whilst the UK electorate can change the government at elections, the main parties can change the government between elections. The Conservative decision to change from Margaret Thatcher to John Major represented a big change in the style and policy of the Conservative government. The change from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown was a big change in the Labour government. John Major went on to get limited public endorsement for his Premiership, only losing 40 seats compared to Margaret Thatcher. Gordon Brown stands in danger of losing many more seats and not getting that endorsement if the latest opinion polls are sustained.
John Major and Tony Blair shared a lot in common. Both fought difficult wars with NATO allies that the public did not always see the point of doing. Both were famous for their spin, and their fascination with how the media saw government. Both saw themselves as moderates, standing against some of the deeply held beliefs of their own parties. Both damaged themselves through loving Europe too much and the UK too little. John Major was unable to convince his party of the justice of Maastricht even with the excellent opt out from the Euro which he negotiated for the UK, whilst Tony Blair failed over a long period in government to ram the single currency through despite wishing to do so. He gave away huge powers elsewhere instead.
Margaret Thatcher was elected to sort out the mess that was the UK in 1979. She bravely tackled Trade Union reform, giving powers back to Union members. She tackled the huge deficit and unwieldy public sector by privatising large naitonalised industries and making them compete. She cut income tax rates decisively and ended exchange controls, allowing the UK to become a richer and more competitive economy.
Gordon Brown was chosen to put socialism back into the media spun politically ambiguous direction of Tony Blair. He has upped the taxes on success and the rich, nationalised two leading banks, greatly expanded the public payrolls, and greatly increased the benefit dependence of many. He has made the UK decisively less competitive and has brought rising living standards to a grinding halt.
The change from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown was a big change of government. It now has to face its first electoral test. The forthcoming election is about a very simple question – can you afford and do you want a truly socialist government? Do you want the poor living standards and low growth that always goes with high taxes and an overexpanded public sector?