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Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last week

I usually refrain from blogging about UK party politics on here, but my allegiances are well known, so I’ll drop my own rule. And there’s a lot to talk about, especially this week.

The UK media are hyping up the UK Independence Party beyond belief ahead of the local elections this Thursday. Even if the polls turn out not to be an exact prediction of what we will wake up to on Friday morning, it’s fair to say that UKIP’s share of the vote is going to increase somewhat dramatically in this election. This is not to say they will gain many seats, I would be surprised if their total ended up near that of the Green Party by the end of this week. However the biggest indication of the effect of their vote will be the losses made by the Conservative Party, i.e. to what extent they split the right-wing vote.

This is unknown territory. Whatever we think about Labour and know to be true, the Conservative Party have been largely unopposed on the official right-wing of UK politics for decades. However faux-left wing the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have been in recent years, anyone with mild left-wing sympathies has gone to them and not the Conservatives when it came down to it inan election, especially those under First Past the Post (FPTP). More so, on the left , the Green Party has made gains in certain places and at certain times, and of course in Scotland and Wales the SNP and Plaid Cymru make things even more complicated. On the right, the BNP have only ever made fleeting inroads, and have all but imploded. A series of ramshackle right-wing parties, such as Veritas, have come and gone in quick succession but have generally failed to make an impact on the Tories’ claims to the right wing vote. UKIP’s false air of respectability, and slew of ex-Tory members and candidates has changed that. And this is significant for the left.

For too long, Labour and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats have been able to claim most of the vote of the generally left-leaning voter to a large extent as a way to keep out the Tories. Under FPTP they have at times been able to argue that, in particular with the Green Party, a vote for the Greens is a vote for the Tories. The weakness of the system so eloquently explained by Reform Cat. If you have one party that 40% identify with, and 2 parties that 60% identify with, that one party will almost always get in under FPTP. A similar allegation, however spurious, was made with relation to the Green Party in the USA in 2000, when the Democrats’ Al Gore lost votes to Ralph Nader.

But however queasy the rise of UKIP and their divisive and discriminatory policies and candidates makes you feel, it could have a silver lining. Now there are Conservatives saying “Vote UKIP, Get Labour” (something they have, admittedly, said at times since 2004). Of course, Labour and the Lib Dems are also likely to see some of their voters drift to UKIP, but a majority of UKIP supporters are Tory supporters, as this Yougov composite poll suggests, so the gains they are likely to make will surely outweigh the losses. There are only so many real conservative voters. They are not a majority, they just benefit from people having more choice on the left, and a faulty electoral system. With the rise of another conservative party, the Tories may finally be having some real competition for once, rather than fighting over the centre ground with Labour.

So, if the UKIP rise is sustained, there can be stronger arguments for sustained support for other left wing parties, such as the Green Party. No longer can the mantra be that a Green vote splits the already split “left-wing” vote. If the Conservative Party is having to fight someone other than the centre-hugging Liberal Democrats and Labour Party for their votes, it means the Green Party can consistently challenge Labour and the Lib Dems for their voters. And it may also precipitate a lean to the left for Labour and the Lib Dems, if there are more voters to be found on the left than on the right, with the Conservatives and UKIP fighting it out. The centre ground will get muddied. There will be little benefit in hanging around there.

Whether any of this has any truth in it will depend both on what happens on Thursday, what happens in 2014 at the European elections, and then the General Election. In the mean time, it will certainly be enjoyable if we can take delight in both UKIP failing to gain many seats, and the Conservatives losing many. Anything more than that will be worrying, but it may have some knock-on benefits.

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