The Carswell defection: Welcome to the new politics

It's a great day for UKIP. But the new politics is not going to happen unless the gigantic road-block of an electoral system no longer fit for purpose is removed. For the new politics, it's proportional representation or bust

Get in Douglas
the commentator
On 28 August 2014 11:06

All across the democratic world, change is afoot. The old loyalties are fraying. Deference to traditional politics, its institutions and procedures, is giving way to ever more vocal calls for something different. Increasing sections of the populations of Western countries have ceased to look at the political parties and ways of governing as items set in stone. It's a big deal.

In the United States, a non-white candidate came from nowhere to storm into the White House. Yes he could! Across the political divide, the Tea Party has turned the politics of the American Right upside down. In Western Europe, protest parties of the far-Right and far-Left are ripping up the old socio-political contracts in a sobering reminder that change can be for the worse as well as for the better.

In Britain, we have UKIP. Thursday's decision by Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to defect to Nigel Farage's aptly named People's Army could be very much the shape of things to come, as well as a very British version of the wider trend referred to above. For a few weeks at least, UKIP, which slaughtered the mainstream parties at the European elections in spite of (partly because of?) a shameful mainstream media smear campaign, has a member in the House of Commons.

But what next? Carswell deserves to win his byelection. But that doesn't mean he will. And even if he does, that doesn't mean he'll win the seat again at the 2015 general election. Nor does it mean that UKIP will acrue broader success at that same general election.

That is not just because the Conservatives will (rightly as it happens) successfully pursuade many UKIP-inclined Tory voters that a vote for UKIP will split the Right and put Labour leader Ed Miliband in Number 10. The real issue, and the core challenge for those who would build the new politics, is contained within, and lies underneath, that postulation. The only reason that the Conservatives have a point is that the electoral system is no longer fit for purpose.

You can get a working majority on 35 percent of the vote. Are you kidding? No, really: are you kidding! At least when governments were formed on 40 percent-plus you could argue that it was a plurality. Now, the legitimacy of the entire system is in question.

First-past-the-post is the quintessential blocking mechanism for real political change in Britain. It gives the old parties every excuse in the book to tell you that you've got to stick with them. And until that point is internalised and turned into the centre-piece of the new politics, our politics is unlikely to look very new for quite some time to come.

We at the Commentator believe that we should move to proportional representation along the lines of Germany, and many other countries in central Europe and beyond. A five percent threshold for parliamentary representation will keep out most of the video-nasties.

Such a system will allow the main parties to fracture on more honest lines. Whatever Nigel Farage might say about UKIP drawing support from a wider pool than the disenchanted Tories, it remains the case that UKIP is a party of the political Right.

Under PR there would be a natural parliamentary alliance between UKIP and the Conservatives, both of whom would civilise each other's less creditable tendencies, while giving voters much more power in terms of the way their preferences are translated into policies.

The Lib-dems -- essentially the Labour Party minus the working class -- would be the natural alliance partner of Labour.

Sometimes, unusual coalitions would be formed. But UKIP-Tory/Labour-Lib-Dem would be the point of departure.

That said, and if you like, you can keep missing the wood for the trees. If you're a UKIP supporter it would be natural for you to feel a sense of elation today. You can be forgiven, today, for believing that anything is possible. But it isn't.

Get to the core issue. The new politics is not going to happen unless that gigantic road-block of an electoral system no longer fit for purpose is removed. There are many other challenges before us. But, in the order of business, that's the priority.

UKIP can either get to grips with that, or it can enter a world of disappointment.

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