Recently, I have begun to hear comparisons about the GOP and the Labour Party of the United Kingdom. Putting aside systems of government differences, the comparisons see the GOP being doomed to minority status like Labour, both have unelectable standard-bearers leading their parties and both face substantial demographic hurdles moving forward.
But, the GOP is not the Labour Party. Indeed, the GOP is in a much more enviable position than the Labour Party of the UK.
It is true the GOP and Labour have seen their coalitions shift significantly since the 90’s. Before the 90’s the GOP was the party of Midwestern moderates while Labour was the province of unions and rural voters. But starting in the early 90’s, the preferences of voters began to change in the US as did voters in the UK.
The first politician to recognize the shift was Tony Blair. Realizing that Labour had to change after the era of Margaret Thatcher, Blair turned the Labour Party into a cosmopolitan party centered around large but competent government. In 1997, Labour took control of the government for the first time in over a decade.
The much maligned George Bush was also the first GOP President to recognize the shifting preferences of voters and tried to turn his party into one of minorities and rural and suburban whites. It worked somewhat until 2008.
But whereas Labour was soundly defeated in 2009 after its large but competent government mantra wore out and Labour has struggled in local elections the GOP has found success in Congressional and local races. For example, the GOP controls 31 of 50 gubernatorial mansions and 2/3rds of state legislatures. Labour’s local strength does not even compare to the GOP’s.
Additionally, Labour’s and the GOP’s struggles are the opposite demographically. Labour has found new strength among communities of immigrants, minorities and the well-educated (just like Democrats). Labour struggles among white, downscale, rural and suburban voters (the groups that vote Republican). The difference here is that minorities are growing as a share of the population in the US making Republican efforts to reach out to voters of color a must. While it is true that voters of color are expanding as a share of the electorate in the UK they are not doing so at nearly the rate in the US.
There is one last point to consider. Due to the 2-party system of the US the GOP has the advantage of only having to compete against one other major party. In other words, the GOP is the alternative to Democrats for voters in virtually every election.
In the UK, due to their parliamentary system of government, small, nationalistic parties can take seats from Labour. Additionally, at any given time, a third party can pop up to challenge Labour and the Tories. In the case of Labour’s struggles, their primary doppelganger and seat stealer is the Scottish National Party or SNP. In the case of the Tories it is UKIP.
There should be little doubt that Labour is precariously weak in the UK. But, much as we have seen in the US, coalitions shift and change. Right now, despite their strong majority in Parliament, the Tories are not exactly a model of party unity.
So, while yes, it is true both Labour and the GOP face significant hurdles going forward Labour’s are far larger in comparison. The GOP only has one major party to compete against, is much stronger in statewide and local elections and has proven it is resilient in Congressional races.
Now, the GOP does face significant hurdles in the Presidential contest. But, as parties have done, and much as Labour and the GOP have done recently, they adapt. Republicans are not doomed to extinction in a rapidly diversifying country and Labour is not doomed to be locked out of power for decades. At some point due to the cyclical nature of politics the right circumstances will arise and Labour and the GOP will take advantage.