In a fascinating analysis and leader article Saturday’s Guardian newspaper analysed the Newark byelection result and came to some heartening conclusions. One of the main reasons why UKIP didn’t do as well as they hoped seems to have been tactical voting – people who didn’t want UKIP to win voted for the Conservative candidate even if they wouldn’t otherwise have supported him, because it would keep UKIP out. And this exposes some very interesting things about our first-past-the-post political system.
One, which was also mentioned by The Guardian, is that it does not favour parties which, like UKIP, have a level of support spread widely across the UK rather than concentrated in a few areas. They can do reasonably well in European elections, which are run on the proportional representation system. They can even do relatively well in local elections, where voters vote by ward in small localised clusters for individuals who will form part of a much larger group. But in elections to parliament, UKIP face one huge problem; the vast majority of the people in this country hate them.
In polls, they generally have a level of support of around 20%. That ain’t going to get you into government; just ask the Liberal Democrats. It may just, just get you an MP or two, under the old two party system where you may be able to sneak in as your opposition divides. However, it is that two party system which Mr Farage is claiming to smash, and it appears from Newark that what he has smashed it into is two bodies of voters, those who support UKIP, and those who will vote for almost anyone to keep them out. Looking at Newark, we seem to be seeing that old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” in action, as voters who might not otherwise support the Conservatives hold their noses and vote Tory in order to stop UKIP.
So everything is all right then, isn’t it? UKIP will remain a fringe looney party and the rest of us can live happily ever after. Well, no, not really.