Monday 13 May 2013

The Future of UKIP, Part One

Far too many UKIP supporters are dreaming of great victories at the European elections next year and then on to the general election in 2015 where, so the dream has it, the party will pick up enough seats to be able to dictate terms to anyone wishing to form a government. UKIP will do well in 2014, but it is unlikely on present trends to have any seats at Westminster in 2015. In fact, as this calculation shows, UKIP would have to gain at least 23 percent of the vote nationwide to have any MPs at all.

Third parties who seek to break the mould of British politics invariably have it broken over their heads by the existing parties as they cast them into nothingness. That is what happened to the Social Democratic Party when it tried to muscle past Labour in the 1980s, as Labour took on board many SDP policies and simply undercut the whole need for that party. So realignments can happen within parties, without the party system being disturbed. Thus, for instance, the American Democratic Party is now the voice of of civil rights, whereas before 1860 it was the party that wanted to extend slavery into the territories.

The exception to this is when one or the other main political parties suffers a schism which allows a new party to come forward and take its place. In the United States that would be the Whig Party which fell apart in 1850, and in Britain the Liberals who suffered a similar fate during the Great War. The Americans did not have a ready made alternative the the Whigs so it took about four years for the newly minted Republicans to emerge from the wreckage, but in Britain the Labour Party was ready and waiting to step into the electoral breach that the Liberal split had created.

Labour's pre-war growth had been with the support of the Liberals, but had the latter not split there is not evidence to suggest that Labour would have been able to force its way through to become the main alternative to the Tories for government. A more likely explanation would be to think of the Liberals taking on board the more popular Labour polices and keeping that party in a firmly subordinate role, if not extinguishing it altogether.

Today there are no signs that either of the two main parties are about to split, but quite a few that show the Tories moving into UKIP territory with the offer of a referendum on the European Union. David Cameron has shown that he is a master at such stunts, just look at the vote on proportional representation that he duped the Liberal-Democrats into agreeing to, before helping to squash the whole idea very firmly indeed.

Come 2015 and an awful lot of old Tories will be quite happy with that promise and will go back to the fold. It will not please the hardline Europhobes, but it doesn't have to, does it?

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