May 19, 2010
Strange to relate but the UK Independence Party did both well and badly in the recent general election. They did well, in that their total vote went up by 51% and their overall vote share rose to 3.1%. UKIP’s vote has grown consistently over the last decade.
They do much less well than in European elections, admittedly, where last year they scored 16.5% of the votes, but a lot of that difference can be attributed to the electoral system. Parties that are contenders for victory in the First Past The Post electoral system do much better than parties that are not.
But as well as doing well, UKIP also did badly. Unlike the larger parties, UKIP not only had a lower vote share in the general election than in the Europeans, but actually won fewer votes (917,832, compared with nearly 2.5 million). People who voted UKIP in the European elections did not care enough about the UKIP arguments to support them in the more important elections for the House of Commons. Ironically, it is the House of Commons and not the European Parliament that actually has the power to enact UKIP policies: UKIP is winning its votes in the wrong elections.
And the UKIP experience even gets worse. In 21 seats, the UKIP vote was greater than the majority by which either Labour or the Liberal Democrats defeated the Conservatives. Those extra 21 seats would have given the Conservatives a majority in the House of Commons and not forced them into coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The UKIP fear must be that their intervention in the election, far from advancing euroscepticism in British politics, actually put Britain’s pro-Europeans into government.
What can UKIP do? They could stand down in favour of the Conservatives at the next election in seats where the result might be close, but it is only in those seats where there is real excitement about politics. They would condemn themselves to the quiet backwaters. Furthermore, they cannot be sure that all their voters would switch to the Conservatives in the absence of a UKIP candidate, and lastly, the Tories have no electoral interest in returning the compliment by moving in the UKIP direction: there are more than 6 million Liberal Democrat voters out there to be won over but fewer than 1 million people voted for UKIP. The very reason why UKIP exists is because the Conservatives are not eurosceptic enough, so there are limits to how much UKIP can defer to them.
The alternative is to continue to plough their own, lonely furrow. But should their vote continue to rise as it has done, they are likely to see more Conservative eurosceptics defeated and Labour or Liberal Democrat pro-Europeans elected instead.
Should they fight, or should they cooperate? Not an easy decision for UKIP to make, but I can’t think of a group of people I would prefer to have to make it.
P.S. You can read the full European Movement analysis of the general election results here: http://bit.ly/d55I7TAuthor : European Movement UK