The results of the 2014 European elections demonstrate clearly that UKIP (UK Independence Party) can indeed win a national election. Many claim that this cannot be translated into 2015 General Election success due to the nature of the British voting system. However, this short paper will argue that the electoral system can be made to serve UKIP’s to the detriment of the establishment parties. This is based on 3 key facts:
UKIPs apparent disadvantage is based on perception rather than reality.
The three establishment parties are so similar they are nothing more than factions of a single Establishment party
The Establishment vote is split three ways while the UKIP vote is unified
The key to success in 2015 will be based on changing perceptions by demonstrating a two horse race and a three way split. The system cannot be changed but the way people think about it can and it is this that can make all the difference.
A question of perception
The 2014 poll demonstrated that in terms of percentages more people in the UK sympathised with UKIP than with any other political party. This is reality, the only reason this is not translated into General Election success is because people perceive UKIP defeat under the system as inevitable. As such they believe a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote. This creates a self-fulfilling prophesy that Establishment relies on to maintain its grip on power.
The 2014 election has gone some way to changing perceptions – people now know that UKIP can win a national election. UKIP’s percentage of the vote is a reality; the supposed disadvantage of First Past the Post is only a perception. Over the next 12 months UKIP needs to change the way the public thinks about First Past the Post and get them to practice conviction politics. This can be achieved by giving them a simple choice between two options.
Two Horse Race: Establishment versus UKIP
The key to UKIP’s success in 2015 will be to present the contest as a two horse race, a race involving two parties – the Establishment Party and the anti-Establishment UKIP. If the public can be convinced that the three other “parties” are in reality three factions of a single establishment party then First Past the Post can work dramatically in UKIP’s favour. Past experience suggests that it makes no difference which Establishment faction(s)form a government. A vote for either of them is a vote for establishment interests and a policy of “more of the same”. In 1997 people were voting for change, they thought that by voting for the Labour Party they would get that change – they didn’t! Past is prologue.
The European Union is a central pillar of establishment thinking and it is inconceivable that anyone who has been allowed to rise to the top of an establishment party will be able to facilitate the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. In November 2009 David Cameron repudiated his previous “cast iron guarantee” to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty after “persuasion” from European establishment grandees. How can we trust Mr. Cameron’s supposed commitment for an in-out referendum on EU membership by 2017 after such a dramatic change of policy? The likely reason for putting off a referendum to 2017 is to give the Establishment more time to subvert the popular will. Whatever their rhetoric the establishment parties will never give up on the EU because it is so central to the interests of those who run and control them.
The UK, like the rest of the Western world is not a true democracy but a “Managed Democracy”. Under this system the Establishment decides who the public is allowed to vote for. The establishment media is not impartial. Like the establishment parties it is run for the benefit of establishment interests. It presents its favoured candidates in the best possible light and smears anyone deemed to be a threat to the establishment’s careful management of the system.
The recent showing by UKIP in the EU parliamentary elections suggests that if people were to vote confidently with their hearts UKIP could quite easily become the largest party in the polls next May. Nevertheless, establishment “parties” will do what they can to bar UKIP from a role in Government. A coalition of Labour and the Conservatives is more likely than a coalition between either of them and UKIP. Due to its position on Europe, UKIP goes against the grain of the Establishment’s unwavering support for the EU. We have already seen evidence of this concept in operation following UKIP’s 2014 electoral victory.
An article in the Thurrock Gazette on 29 May 2014 entitled Labour and Tories “weigh up grand coalition” to keep Ukip at bay gives us a glimpse of what might happen next year. A Conservative-Labour coalition is not unlikely because as parts of the Establishment they have more in common with each other than they do with UKIP. The Thurrock situation provides evidence for the two horse race thesis.
However, once the ingrained perception about First Past the Post is broken, all bets are off because the system itself and the rules of the game will be transformed.
Three Way Split for the Establishment Vote
Once the perception nut is cracked, the logic of First Past the Post swings more in UKIPs favour. In a two horse race, people are more likely to vote on the basis of their political convictions and true interests. That could be damaging to the Establishment parties because their own vote would be split three ways. Once perceptions have been changed their apparent advantage under the system is first nullified, and ultimately turned into a weakness.
Add to this the significant segment of the population that currently does not vote and the current political system becomes very interesting indeed. In the aftermath of the 2014 election it was noted that UKIP secured votes from people who had never voted before. It could be argued that the non-voting public are anti-establishment by definition and therefore more likely to support UKIP. If UKIP demonstrates that it can succeed against the establishment a greater number of the non-voting public will be persuaded to go to the polls.
If systemic perceptions are changed, a three way split for the Establishment vote would weaken the establishment parties and strengthen UKIP.
First published in UKIP Daily and published here with author’s permission.
Chris Knowles is a former member of the Labour Party. He is a member of the Board of Directors at the International Civil Liberties Alliance. His main political concern is the subversion of the right to freedom of expression. He holds an MA in Modern International Studies from Leeds University More Posts