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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Why the rise of UKIP isn't all bad news for the Lib Dems

Latest from me in the New Statesman - actually getting some interesting comments (and some not so good)(as per)

While there’s no point trying to pretend last week’s by-election results were anything other than awful for the Lib Dems, the silver lining comes from a surprising direction – the success of UKIP. For while the Lib Dems and UKIP are poles apart philosophically, there are some huge in-built electoral advantages to the former in the rise of the latter
Nationally, a fall in the Lib Dem share of vote is ultimately more likely to benefit Labour in the 2015 election – a fact which is well understood in No. 10, and why Nick is allowed a fair amount of Tory bashing. But from the Lib Dem end of the telescope, there are a lot of Lib Dem seats where the Tories run us a close second. Hence the Conservative target seats now being published include a high percentage of Lib Dem-held marginals – half of them in fact.
But a rise in the UKIP share of the vote throws that plan into trouble. Few core Lib Dem voters are likely to switch to UKIP in those constituencies – but a rise in the UKIP vote is likely to hit the Tories hard. Maybe not enough for UKIP to win – but certainly enough to stop the Tories getting past the Lib Dem incumbent.
Secondly, the Tories need to respond to the UKIP surge – and will want to rush to the right. And any move to the right by the Tories to counter UKIP leaves more of the centre ground open to the Lib Dems, just as the differentiation strategy needs it.
But these are just tactical advantages to the Lib Dems. There’s a greater prize. As the excellent Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson points out, the inherent unfairness of UKIP polling at 10 per cent but gaining zero Westminster seats in a general election (thanks to first-past-the-post) is likely to reignite the debate around electoral reform. The net effect of a UKIP surge removing votes from the Tories and at the same time handing Labour a landslide election victory is likely to energise the debate about proportional representation (PR) on the right.
And every Lib Dem wants the PR debate and electoral reform at the top of the political agenda. So, rather than resulting in our demise, the surge in UKIP support could actually be the saving grace for the Lib Dems. Funny old world, politics.

1 comment:

  1. Another side to your comment about the rise of the UKIP vote is that those in favour of a PR system for Westminster have not worked out how they can win a majority in favour of PR, bearing in mind the issue would have to be put to another referendum.

    To get a majority, the reformers must win over many who will not vote for STV, who are not prepared to give up the simple voting and counting of FPTP, the single member constituency system of election. In addition they must win over those MPs who are not likely to vote for a change that threatens the existence of their constituency, even if they don’t put it that way.

    Reformers haven’t faced up to this, so the danger is they are unprepared when the PR debate gets going again.

    Can I draw you attention to Direct Party and Representative Voting?

    This is PR but retaining the simple voting and counting of FPTP without change to existing single member constituencies. No multimember constituencies, no boundary arguments, no list MPs. No more safe party seats, no more elections won in the marginals.

    I would be interested in your opinion.

    Leaving that aside, say we did get PR. People would almost inevitably change the way they vote. No more tactical voting. Lib Dems might find their vote stripped of its protest element and reduced to its core.
    Conversely the Green Party, and UKIP which both have a simple big idea, might attract voters who might have thought that under FPTP it would be a wasted vote. It would be ironic if PR lead to a much reduced Lib Dem party. This seems more likely to me than to find the Lib Dems leading a coalition Government.