A lot has been made over the weekend of the fact that the Scottish National Party won 56 seats in the general election with only 5.6 percent of the overall vote, while the U.K.Independence Party won just one of the 650 seats in Parliament from 12.6 percent of the vote.
It is an example of our first-past-the-post electoral system at its most extreme. It’s not just the votes, you also need geographical concentration of support to do well in a UK general election – the SNP had it, UKIP did not.
This has led to UKIP’s ex-leader, Nigel Farage, calling our electoral system “bankrupt”. One can understand his frustration. But when the U.K. had a referendum on proportional representation back in 2011, we voted against it . And a Conservative majority only makes any change even more unlikely. Indeed, in the next few months we can expect new boundary changes to U.K.constituencies that’ll further protect the Conservative Party from smaller parties.
Despite Farage’s protestations, if he truly went into politics for the right reasons – to fight for a cause not a career – then he should be happy. A majority Conservative government will now deliver an in-outreferendum on the U.K.’s continued membership of the European Union. This is huge progress for the euroskeptic cause – regardless of what partyyou belong to — on almost any time frame imaginable.
Farage tried to argue that UKIP was not just a one-issue party, but I don’t think anyone ever believed him. Despite securing the third most votes, his party’s future is bleak now. They have just one Member of Parliament, a former Conservative, and will there be any point in them once a referendum has been held, whatever the decision?
It raises another point. I’m delighted that David Cameron did not have to cede further ground to Farage on this issue by handing him more control of wording and timing of the referendum. UKIP had to differentiate themselves from the Tories by saying they would hold a referendum immediately. But clearly it is worth at least trying to renegotiate some key terms of our EU membership ahead of that referendum.
Before the referendum Cameron will attempt to renegotiate the terms of the U.K.’s membership of the EU with the authorities in Brussels And, to Cameron’s credit, the timing for those talks could not be better. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker will be well aware of the rising anti-EU sentiment in many member countries, and of the majority Cameron has secured domestically, as well as the votes UKIP have secured this year and last.
The ongoing Greece crisis highlights that the EU doesn’t cede ground cheaply. But the authorities inBrussels will have to at least listen. They know a referendum is coming. Britain is a lot bigger than Greece and a vote by the British people to leave the EU would be a massive blow to the organization. Cameron will move quickly and has a genuine chance to get some concessions.
Regardless of whether he does indeed secure any concessions at all, I expect that he and his government will campaign to stay in the EU when the referendum is held. And that is the main reason why fear of a “Brexit” is overdone. Cameron, chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor, and aspiring Conservative party leader, Boris Johnson are all pro-Europe. As are the second, third and fourth biggest voices in Parliament – Labour, the SNP and Liberal Democrats. A “Brexit” is still highly unlikely.
In fact, UKIPs final job will be to campaign for an exit ahead of a referendum, alongside a decent slug of Tory backbenchers. But once the vote has taken place it will be Cameron’s majority government that executes the nation’s voice, not UKIP’s one member of Parliament.
Mr Farage’s career has taken a big blow. But his campaignover the last decade has worked – our political system has returned a government that can deliver the one thing that all his supporters really want – a vote on our place in Europe. In that sense, democracy has worked, albeit in asomewhat unorthodox and convoluted fashion.