In the post regarding Carswell’s defection I referred to Britain’s drift towards becoming a multiparty system.
A party system is defined as the number of ‘relevant’ parties operating within a state’s political system. Historically (1945- 1983) the answer to this question in Britain was two- Labour and Conservatives. They won each election (European, General, local… there were no devolved assemblies) and a vast majority of both the seats and votes (in 1951 the Liberals had only 6 MPs and secured only 2.5% of the vote).
However in the last thirty years this picture has started to change, the Liberals merged with the SDP to form the Liberal Democrats and secure approximately 20% of the vote in 10% of the seats in most recent general elections), it is impossible to say that the Lib Dems are not ‘relevant’ as they are currently in government. This feeling that the Liberals are ‘relevant’ but not as ‘relevant’ (think ‘some animals are equal but some are more equal than others’…) has led to some commentators to suggest that Britain has become a two and a half party system.
However even this label has been challenged recently with commentators increasingly willing to say that there are a multitude of ‘relevant’ parties therefore Britain has become a ‘multiparty system’ to some extent this was the product of the rise of Nationalism in Scotland and Wales with the SNP and Plaid Cymru securing seats in the Westminster Parliament and since 1998 in the devolved Assemblies- however these are regional parties, you can argue there are four relevant parties in Scotland and Wales- but England dominates the UK politically- is there a case for more than three relevant parties here?
The growth of UKIP has added credence to the claim that the UK is a multiparty system. UKIP won the most recent European Elections, they polled strongly and thin the latests local elections and are currently polling at 16 points (the Lib Dems have only 7) in the latest predictions for the General election. However- UKIP as yet (and this may change with the Clacton by- election) do not have an MP. In contrast the Greens who are polling at 5 points do- and have done since Caroline Lucas won a interesting four way marginal in Brighton Pavilion in 2010 / polling.
This interesting piece from the LSE politics blogs suggests that the Green will retain their seat in Pavilion and potentially have a more generally significant impact in the election next May.
Do have a look at this piece from the LSE- and particularly the map, remember you don’t have to win a seat to impact on the outcome of the contest.
The Scottish referendum is looming ever closer and the second Alistair Darling v Alex Salmond Debate took place last week.
Having narrowly won the opening debate earlier this summer Alistair Darling was roundly beaten by an affable, calm and confident Alex Salmond in the second contest. Polling data suggested that 71% of viewers felt Salmond had won while only 29% backed the former Labour chancellor.
Key issues discussed during the debate were the currency and oil.
Alistair Darling felt that both issues would be strong for the yes campaign, however Salmond seemed to win despite an arguably weaker position on both issues.
Firstly the pound- earlier this year perhaps the normally unusual triumvirate of Danny Alexander, Ed Balls and George Osbourne stated that they would block a currency union between an independent Scotland and what was left of the UK. However Salmond responded during the debate that Scotland could not be stopped from using the pound and would continue to do so- to quote the First Minister ‘it’s not George Osbourne’s pound, it’s Scotland’s pound’. There is a precedent to this- both Ecuador and Panama use the US dollar without the formal agreement of the USA. Salmond’s trump card on this during the debate appeared to be his threat that if Scotland did not get a share of the Bank of England’s assets (e.g. the pound) then it would not take it’s share of the Bank of England’s liabilities- e.g. the rather large amounts of debt that the UK has at present.
Secondly, oil. North Sea oil has been a key factor in the narrative of Scottish independence since it was first drilled in the 1970s. It is not a simple coincidence that support for the SNP and demands for devolution and ultimately independence date from the same decade. Alex Salmond’s spending plans for independent Scotland are based on projected oil revenues. During the debate Darling was quick to suggest that the SNP were working from exaggerated forecasts. However, Salmond was quick to state that the forecasts have historically been unreliable in both directions and that every other country in Europe would be delighted to have any North Sea oil- Salmond’s constant comparison between Scotland and wealthy, stable oil rich Norway appears to have appealed to voters despite Darling’s desire to down play the value of the oil.
Latest polling on the issue of independence- suggests that the ‘Yes’ vote now stands at a record high of 47%. Interestingly most pollsters suggest that it may be women who ultimately swing the vote. You can be asked to explain why referendums and elections have the outcomes that they do, and being able to discuss the demographics of voting trends (class, region, age, gender) is really important- so do read the section from the Guardian.
Several of interesting news stories have occurred during the last couple of weeks. As a general rule politics is quite quiet during the summer holidays, because the MPs are on recess (they have summer holidays too).
However thanks to Douglas Carswell and the fact the Scots have a fairly important referendum coming up soon we do have several things to consider.
Firstly lets look at Carswell’s defection to UKIP.
Douglas Carswell was first elected to Parliament in 2005 and since then he has cut a rather unusual figure on the Conservative back benches. A Eurosceptic and a libertarian he has been described as one of the Conservatives more radical thinkers. Along with MEP Dan Hannan he published a book called ‘The Plan’, Carswell’s ideas include mobilising the electorate with Digital Democracy to increase turnout and imposing the right to recall on MPs (e.g. if their constituents feel they have performed badly in office they have the right to trigger a by- election).
However, interesting Cardwell may have been in terms of generating ideas that you can talk about in your democracy topic- it was his decision earlier this week to defect and join UKIP that makes him most interesting.
As you will know from previous posts UKIP have been soaring high in the polls this year, and with Nigel Farage selected as a candidate for the 2015 General Election earlier this week most commentators believed that come May UKIP would have it’s first MEP. However, Carswell’s shock defection there is a chance that UKIP will have an MP much sooner if Carswell can win the by- election (he has a 44 point lead according to Saturday’s polling data) triggered by his defection. This would mark a shift in the nature of British politics as we move ever more towards being a multiparty system.
The weekend’s newspapers have been full of editorials and comment on these, the most interesting are noted below: