Samuel T. Francis, better known as Sam Francis had a joke about the two party system.
A Soviet delegation comes to Washington D.C. where they meet a Senator. The Senator informs them "In your country you have a one party system, but in America we have a two party system. We have the Stupid Party and the Evil Party, I'll glad to say that I'm a member of the Stupid Party!"
"The Stupid Party supports stupid things, the Evil Party supports evil things, but sometimes we like to do things that are both stupid and evil....we call that bipartisanship!"
When there is only one party, them it's easy to see that there is little freedom. The Government can do more or less as it likes. How do you complain?
The two party system is held up as the answer to this lack of freedom. Here you can vote for either the party in Government or for the party in Opposition. You have a choice, you have a vote, you the humble voter gets to decide who governs over you.
This system came into being in the late 1600's in England. The King appointed a First Minister to run his Government, today the First Minister is known as the Prime Minister. The First Minister had to be a member of either the House of Commons (the lower house) or the House of Lords (the Upper House). His job was to run the Government, to get bills passed through the Parliament making them laws and most importantly of all to maintain supply. Supply means the supply of money, in modern terms to get the budget passed.
It might interest you to know that until the 1880's Parliamentarians did not get paid, not even for expenses. Only the First Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the Treasurer) were paid. All others, including Ministers were not paid, men went into Parliament to serve and to obtain power.
In 1600's there also came into being the Leader of the Opposition. Until the 1830's political parties did not exist, instead there existed alliances around power or influential men. The Leader of the Opposition called themselves The Loyal Opposition, this phrase is important. It meant that while he opposed the First Minister and his policies, he remained loyal to the Crown. the Crown being the King and the Kings laws, which were now passed not by the King but by Parliament.
The Parliament was very much like the courts, in the English speaking world they are both adversarial, if you will they are intellectual combat. Two opposing ideas in contest with each other, it is not decided by consensus but by defeating ideas with different ideas, combat. This is how it is still supposed to be.
However in the Twentieth Century there were four great crisis that changed he character of Parliament, the First World War, the Depression, the Second World War and the Cold War. If any of these had occurred then maybe nothing would have really changed, but they happen in rapid succession. Each crisis encouraged the idea that within a country our differences didn't matter, instead what matters is cooperation. This idea influenced generations of Parliamentarians throughout the world.
That consensus was better than division, there was even a name for this it was called the Post-war consensus. In that article they say it ended with Margaret Thatcher's election in 1979. Behind the scenes it never ended, instead the two major Liberal camps, Left-Liberals and Right-Liberals decided to leave each other alone. To each look after their own areas of interest. As time has gone on this has become more and more the case. And what you see on the news each night, the venom and the outrage that is for the roughly 15% were they don't agree. Which means that for roughly 85% of everything that they do agree.
Consensus is not intellectual combat.
Each party takes turns to rule, but as they support 85% of everything their opposition does it's not much of a problem. The two party system is now a sham, a fake Democracy, after all Democracy means rule by the people. Instead of us ruling we are ruled by either the Stupid Party or the Evil Party. What a choice!
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