Electoral reform - it could be back sooner than you think

Houses of Parliament

If UKIP gain in points but not seats at Westminster in 2015 then a real opportunity for electoral reform could resurface.

Almost two months ago UKIP won the European elections with almost 28% of the vote. Labour came second, Conservatives third, Greens fourth, and the Liberal Democrats came a dismal fifth. The divvying up of seats under the D’Hondt method reflected this quite accurately, thanks to its proportional system.

Some commentators at the time said that UKIP’s success will continue to grow following the 2014 elections, whilst others said UKIP has reached its peak.

Two months on and with UKIP getting 14% in the most recent YouGov survey it is arguable that the former prediction is the more accurate.

UKIP have however not peaked; the party will not disappear in time for the 2015 election as David Cameron’s Conservatives are hoping it will.

And while it is true that in some polls Nigel Farage’s party has lost some support since the Euro elections the fact that it has double the support of the Liberal Democrats shows that the party is not going to go away.

The poll also showed Labour on 37 points, three ahead of the Conservatives at 34, and miles ahead of the once popular Liberal Democrats on 7%.

Putting the polling results into Electoral Calculus’ ‘User-defined prediction’ gives Labour a majority of 34, with 342 seats.

The Conservatives would get 273, whilst the Lib Dems would get just 10.

And UKIP would get 0 seats, despite 14% of the vote. If such a poll was repeated in the general election then the difference between the good few million voting for the Euro-sceptic party and the number of MPs to represent their political interests would be vast.

Of course, it is important to note that such measurements are crude as they use uniform swings and do not account for local issues and achievements and personalities of individual MPs. Additionally, in UKIP’s case they do not account for areas where UKIP’s support is much higher, however, the party is very unlikely to win anywhere near as many seats to reflect their vote share.

Furthermore, the poll also suggests that 75% of 2010 Conservative voters are planning to stick with their party, but 16% will move to UKIP.

As for Labour 80% of their 2010 vote intend to stay put, with 9% going to UKIP.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are falling apart, with only 24% of their 2010 vote intending to stick with the party. Interestingly, according to the poll, 15% intend to switch from the pro-EU party to the anti-EU party UKIP. This also demonstrates that UKIP are taking votes from across the political spectrum.

If this poll is to believed it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are falling apart and UKIP are gaining ground. 29% of 2010 Lib Dem voters intend to vote for Labour and 17% for the Conservatives, something that shows a fragmentation of Nick Clegg’s party.

There are now ten months until the general election. To maintain this momentum, Nigel Farage’s team will target the seats where they will most likely do well, however, the first-past-the-post system results in a prevention of smaller parties gaining ground.

This problem with Westminster’s voting system is not just obvious when looking at UKIP’s polling record, but also when looking at the Green party. Whilst their successes, such as gains in local election, are often overlooked by many in the media the party did gain another seat in the European elections, bringing their total to three. Also, unlike UKIP, they have an MP. But yet the votes that go to them and the number of seats gained at Westminster are inconsistent.

Ultimately, Westminster’s voting system inflates Labour's and the Conservatives’ representation, whilst deflating the Lib Dem's, and stops smaller parties such as UKIP and the Greens from gaining ground despite widespread support.

If UKIP’s 14% in the latest YouGov poll, or something similar, is in fact repeated in the 2015 general election and if UKIP do not gain a single MP then I believe that the demand for electoral reform will be back sooner than many commentators would think.

The ‘No’ vote in the AV referendum arguably kicked the issue away for a generation, but with the fragmentation of the two and a half party system as it morphs into a four or even five party system, it will become clear that the current system does not truly and accurately represent the people.

If UKIP are successful percentage-wise, but unsuccessful in getting MPs, then electoral reform will be back on the table sooner than one might think. Citizens in a representative democracy deserve to be represented by who they vote for. A much more proportional system, as an alternative to FPTP, would allow this to happen.