March 02, 2007

Minor Parties

There have been several recent posts from a wide section of the present British right about the rightness or not of voting Conservative over UK Independence Party at the next election. I don't want to get into the question of what you should or should not vote for- nor am I particularly of the right or the left but its an interesting argument because it is really about a very important question concerning the way we vote and support parties. The problem really consists of what you should do in the British system when you don't support one of the main political parties. I have always understood the system to work thus- that what we vote for in elections is not the government that we would prefer- but we vote against the government that we don't want. Voting say for Labour in 1997 was as much about Major as about Blair and for Thatcher in 1983 as much about Foot as Thatcher. This is the republican aspect of our constitution come to life- the people don't have a choice of the party that they prefer but they have a choice of the party that they hate.

One of the interesting things though for an analyst of British politics is that people recently have ceased to vote rationally in our system- so Respect, UKIP, the SNP, Plaid etc have grown up despite the fact that given the tribal hatreds it would be wiser for those people to vote Tory or Labour to exclude the party they hate. I suspect one of the things that is going on here is reduced polarisation- UKIP voters faced with Blair can safely vote for a party that won't get in as a statement of where the Tories ought to be, should Labour replace Blair with a Michael Foot lookalike things might change. In part it alerts us to one of the interesting flaws in the democratic legitimacy flowing to our politicians- they aren't as much our representatives as our least hated option from the ones that we are offered. Whether that is a problem or not is another matter and not for this post to resolve- but minority parties do seem to exist outside the logic of the system of elections we have adopted.


The Nameless One said...

It *could* be a step change in the way people vote - they actually vote for a party, rather than against a party.

That said I have always voted for the party I support and that best represents my views. I like to see voting as a positive action rather than a negative reaction.

Gracchi said...

Yes I know what you mean- but it always strikes me that the way our electoral system is set up it ends up being voting against a party. Its why I find the Alternative Vote system or ranking candidates in order of preference quite an interesting idea because it would at least mean that you could vote for the party you wanted- in the confidence that that didn't mean that the party you didn't want got in because of a split on your side of the political spectrum. I'm no expert on electoral reform at all so will leave it at that and I may be completely wrong on that.

Paulie said...

I would suggest that it's a bit more complicated than your outline Gracchi - but not hugely moreso.

For instance, when the parties are massively polarised, (or society is massively polarised) you are probably correct. But when this isn't the case (and I think this moment in time is one such moment), the minor parties may benefit a bit.

Also, if the election is called on the same day as Euro-elections, it may give UKIP a boost (though not entirely at the expense of the Tories as some commenters have suggested).

Also, 'people vote for people'. They also vote against them. 'Wiping the smile off Blair's face' may be more appealing to some unenthusisatic Tory voters. They may not be as worked up by Brown.

Finally, I'm not keen on forms of electoral reform that strenghen the hands of political parties at the expense of individual candidates.

I could argue this point all day and all night, but I'll spare you that. You know where to find a blog with about 500 posts saying as much if you need to...

Gracchi said...

Yes I agree with you Paulie on many of your points. All I'm talking about on electoral reform is options going down the list of candidates so you'd vote 1, 2, 3, not a list system though I don't really want to start the PR argument like you here. I think your points about increasing subtlety are all right- I was trying to make a very broad point but it does have fuzzy lines.