UKIP’s and the Conservative’s Pickle

It is interesting that the Conservatives are branding themselves as the “party that will give the people a choice” (through an in/out referendum) and UKIP are also promising to “give the country back to the people”. Yet both are worried about splitting the vote at the next general election. Hence the calls for pacts or coupon elections from worried conservatives; hence UKIP playing hard-ball. This is disingenuous.

They could both however decide that  “giving the people a choice” is the way to go and support a change to a voting system with transferable preference voting.

I want my vote to support the UKIP Candidate, but if he cannot win, I would prefer for it to be transferred to the Conservative Candidate.

 

I want my vote to support the Conservative Candidate, but if he or she cannot win, I would prefer for it to be transferred to the UKIP Candidate.

The immediate reaction is to say that will not happen in a month of Sundays. A month of Sundays might actually be the equivalent of three Labour Governments getting in on a split right-wing vote. However, only a minority of Labour changed its position after three Thatcher Governments and a Major Government, when the left vote was split between Labour and the SDP or SDP/Liberal Alliance. Would it be different this time? Two factors come into play:

  1. Part of UKIP’s strategy is to be an obvious threat to the Conservative Party – particularly those Conservatives who do not adopt the same Euro-phobia as UKIP. They are very happy, if necessary,  to destructively slit the throats of existing Tory MPs – even if it lets Labour in. The UKIP hierarchy will say that that is the fault of the Conservatives; their members (and the electorate) may say it is the fault of the voting system.
  2. UKIP has attracted a lot of new support (and membership?) from people who are thoroughly pissed off with the current political system which has disenfranchised them. If they now see that voting UKIP means that their new party can poll 20-40% of the vote but only achieve a few seats, their ire may get more focused on the electoral system that has cheated them.

An example

Although Sunderland is “rock-solid” Labour, the result illustrates this last point. If you tabulate the result (for an election “up by thirds”):

UKIP Supporters may feel incensed! 24% of the vote, yet no seats (when 6 would be a “fair share”). It is also interesting to note that in this “rock-solid” Labour area, of the 21 seats won or retained by Labour, Labour only got 50%+ of the vote in 10 of those seats, yet Labour won 84% of the seats with 46% of the vote – hardly surprising that they are not great supporters of reform.

Conclusion

Change will not happen before the General Election, so it is likely that UKIP (even allowing for a sag in support) will get a negligible number of (or even zero) seats on a vote in excess of say 20%. They will be able to compare this with their result in the Euro-elections where their winnings in terms of seats will (due to the PR system used – however flawed) more closely match their support.

Yet they can only achieve their prime aim (EU exit) through Westminster. There is a distinct possibility that their advocacy of this very policy (through standing candidates) will guarantee Labour (who do not want significant change) winning seats rather than the Conservatives (who have offered a referendum).

So will they try to avoid this by a grubby little pre-election stitch-up behind the scenes between UKIP and UKIP-friendly Conservatives, whereby in some constituencies UKIP will stand but make no campaigning effort (possibly even – on the quiet – encouraging people to vote Conservative) but in “unfriendly” Conservative seats go all out for a win – and still risk Labour getting in?

In the end, will this lead to even more disenchantment and disengagement or pressure for real change?

 

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