Written on 4 June 2014
By Chris Knowles
The results of the 2014 European elections demonstrate clearly that UKIP 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.
Only 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 if because people perceive UKIP defeat under the system as inevitable. As such they believe a vote for UKIP is a wasted vote and therefore do not vote on the basis of their political convictions. This creates a self-fulfilling prophesy that Establishment relies on to maintain its grip on power.
Under First Past the Post the only barrier that UKIP faces is one of perception. TheMerriam-Webster online dictionary defines perceptions as follows:
: the way you think about or understand someone or something
: the ability to understand or notice something easily
: the way that you notice or understand something using one of your senses” (emphasis added)
The 2014 election has gone some way to changing perceptions – people now know that UKIP can win a national election. The UKIP percentage of the vote is a reality, the supposed disadvantage of First Past the Post is only a perception. All that UKIP needs to do over the next 12 months is 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 what are perceived as the three main parties are in reality three factions of a single establishment party First Past the Post can work dramatically in UKIP’s favour. This should not be difficult since, based on experience, it is clear that it makes no difference which one (or indeed two) Establishment factions is the party(s) currently in power. 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 Cameronrepudiated his previous “cast iron guarantee” to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treatyafter he received pressure from other European (establishment) leaders. 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 only reason for putting off a referendum on membership of the EU to 2017 is to provide more time to find ways to undermine the popular will on the subject and to devise yet more excuses for continued membership. The only things Cameron’s “cast iron” guarantees yield are piles of rust! Whatever their rhetoric the establishment parties will never give up on the EU because it is so central to their world view. Indeed, the EU is the central pillar of their world view!
The UK, like the rest of the Western world is governed by a system of “Managed Democracy”, not true democracy. Under this system the establishment effectively decides who the public is allowed to vote for. The establishment media, owned by the same people who may effectively own the politicians, acts as their cheerleaders. It is not an impartial player in events but the propaganda arm of establishment interests. It presents its favoured candidates in the most favourable light and smears anyone who is a threat to the establishment’s careful management of the system. You can’t have two masters; you cannot represent the interests of the people as a whole while representing the interests of a tiny elite.
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. However, in 2015 when the chips are down the establishment factions, Liberal Democrat, Labour, and Conservative “parties”, will stick together. This will prove that they, together, really represent a single Establishment party. This may make the difference between Nigel Farage being Prime Minister or being Leader of the Opposition. 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.
The political establishment will not let UKIP run the UK even if it wins the highest percentage of votes. A coalition of Labour and the Conservatives is more likely than a coalition between either of them and UKIP. This is because UKIP goes against the grain of establishment thinking and is opposed to the central establishment interest – 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 the Establishment blueprint for retaining power in the event of a UKIP electoral surge. An coalition comprised of the Conservative and Labour parties in 2015 is not unlikely because as mere factions of the governing class they have more in common with each other than they do with UKIP. The Thurrock situation provides evidence for the two horse race thesis.
Three Way Split for the Establishment Vote
The Establishment’s 2015 nightmare referred to above could be worse than they currently imagine. Instead of Nigel Farage controlling the biggest party while being Leader of the Opposition they could find him as the Prime Minister with more than 50% of the vote.
Once the perception nut is cracked, the logic of the First Past the Post system swings in UKIPs favour and makes such a scenario possible. 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 then turned into a weakness.
Add to this the percentage of the population that currently do not vote and the current political system becomes very interesting indeed. UKIP mentioned in the aftermath of the 2014 election that it has 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. Dissatisfaction with the political establishment and a feeling that they can do nothing about the situation can be a strong motivator for not voting. Such people understand the power of the Establishment and its current grip on the system of Managed Democracy. If UKIP demonstrates that it can succeed against the establishment it is likely that more will come out to vote in the future. Even if there were members of the non-voting public whose prime preference was for Labour, Liberal Democrat, and Conservative factions of the establishment, the three way split would make them less significant under the first past the post system.
If systemic perceptions were changed, a three way split for the Establishment vote would weaken the establishment parties and strengthen UKIP.
The First past the Post electoral system can be manipulated not only to the benefit of UKIP but also to the disadvantage of established or indeed Establishment parties. The three concepts of perception, two horse race, and three way split could form the basis of a UKIP “12 Months to make a difference” campaign to transform UK politics and restore the country’s sovereignty. This would form part of UKIP’s message that would supplement its existing strategy to focus mainly on key seats based on the “Paddy Ashdown Approach” referred to by the UKIP leader after the 2014 poll. The strategy would rest on encouraging positive rather than negative voting behaviour by restoring confidence in conviction politics. “Conviction Politics” is a political technology that can be utilised to restore power to the electorate rather those who manage the system. All UKIP needs to do is to change perceptions by presenting the Establishment parties as a single party in all but name…
An updated draft of this article can be found at UKIPdaily
Update 2: UKIP failed to do the one thing they needed to do. They failed to hire me!