First published: Summer 1991
A potential change of government from one party to another is a fairly routine matter in British politics. But what underlies the decline of the present Tory government, and the evident inability of the Labour Party to present any convincing alternative, is something more fundamental. Britain is approaching one of those great turning points in political history which have so far occurred roughly only once a century, which imply a shift in the entire party political system, that is in the form of bourgeois political hegemony.
Since the English bourgeois revolution of 1642–49 there have been only four crises of equivalent scale – 1688 with the ‘Glorious Revolution’, 1783 with the turning point after the American War of Independence, 1832 and the passing of the first Reform Act, and 1886 with the fatal split in the Liberal Party over Irish Home rule. In order to grasp the scale and nature of what is unfolding in British politics today it is therefore valuable to step back from immediate issues and consider the general course of British political history.