To many, a new centre-ground party sounds like step in the right direction. But there is one problem: Britain’s voting system.
With the Mirror reporting that the ex-chief-of-staff of David Davis has called for a new anti-Brexit party, it is worth noting the main obstacle that stands in the way of such a movement: Britain’s voting system.
First-past-the-post is incredibly biased towards the largest two parties, tending to accentuate their true support when it comes to the function of seats and votes. The converse of this is that smaller parties are punished in the parliamentary arena, meaning that the true scale of their support is often hidden by the Commons’ seat distribution.
One must only look at British political history – including recent elections – to see how bad it can get for new parties.
Social Democratic Party
Just look at the SDP, who were formed in 1981 by the “Gang of Four” who broke away from Labour. In an alliance with the struggling Liberals, they came a close third in terms of vote-share at the 1983 general election, but only won 23 seats, six of which were SDP.
The Alliance won 25.4% of the vote, just behind Labour’s 27.6%, yet Labour won 209 seats. The lesson here is that: a new party will struggle under FPTP and risk splitting the vote of others who agree with significant parts of their cause.
The Alliance later merged into one party: the Liberal Democrats.
United Kingdom Independence Party
A more recent example is UKIP, who won almost 13% of the vote at the 2015 general election. The party had a significant impact on British politics, forcing Cameron to hold a referendum, but their 13% share of the vote only saw them win one seat.
A new party?
A new political party risks surging in the polls, but winning very few seats in a general election. Starting a new party has been talked about a lot in recent years, especially after Corbyn’s 2015 victory and the Brexit vote last summer, but even if there are politicians wishing to go down that road, the giant roadblock of first-past-the-post, and lessons from recent political history are surely influencing their thoughts.