UKIP wins first seat in parliament. But how important or unimportant is this victory

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Question:

As UKIP wins first seat, I saw the reaction from Theresa May on Twitter. She wrote: So UKIP have a seat…. maybe by May they’ll have a nice coffee table & lamp too. She clearly plays down UKIP’s victory. But how important or unimportant is this victory, what it means for British politic in your opinion.

Answer:

Tim BaleProfessor, Chair in Politics, Queen Mary, University London, Author of the book: The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron

It has the potential to be very important – especially if it lends momentum to the other Conservative MP who has defected to UKIP and will be standing in another by-election soon. If UKIP can claim to voters that supporting the Party is not a wasted vote, then it stands much more chance of winning up to ten per cent of the vote at a general election. That won’t win them many seats – five is probably the absolute maximum – because of the country’s first past the post electoral system. But it will enough to cost the other parties, and especially the Conservatives, some seats by causing them to lose to their biggest rivals. In other words, this could end up altering which party emerges strongest at the general election and therefore influencing who is in government in the UK after May 2015.

Robin Pettitt, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Kingston University

The UKIP victory is obviously important for the party. It shows that they can win under an electoral system that is designed to be nasty to small parties. However, it was also expected, so no one is surprised.
So, the event is not so important in and off itself. What is extremely important is the trend that the victory is part of. It is yet another symptom that Labour and the Conservatives is losing their dominance in UK politics. In the 1950s Labour and the Conservatives received up to 98(!!!) percent of the vote together. Now they struggle to scrape together 70 percent. Basically, the voters are increasingly saying that they want other parties to have influence, and the only reason why it is not happening as much as the voters want is because of the electoral system. This is a situation which is only going to get worse. At the moment ii is looking likely that Labour might be able to win more than 50 percent of the seats in the House of Commons with about 35 percent of the vote. That is clearly a huge democratic problem. On the other hand UKIP might get as much as 10 percent of the vote, but only 1 percent of the seats. This is an untenable situation and will continue to create dis-satisfaction with British politics.

So, yes important for UKIP, but what is really important is what it shows about the decline in the power of Labour and the Conservatives, which has been going on for a long time, but is escalating.

Mark Shephard, Senior Lecturer, Department of Government, University of Strathclyde

UKIP victory in Clacton for first MP in Westminster looks like a seismic change in British politics at Westminster-level elections (4 parties, and possibly 5 with increased Green support too rather than 3 party battles) but is difficult to assess for a number of reasons. First, it was a by-election and history tells us that these can produce wildly different swings to those at General Elections. By-elections are often used to send warning signals to parties in power to change policies. Second, Douglas Carswell (the UKIP victor) was the former Conservative MP and so much of his victory can be attributed to his incumbency and personal status and appeal as the former local MP. That said, UKIP look set to feature prominently in the politics of the UK in the run up to the General Election, and it does look likely that they will hurt the Conservative vote more than the Labour vote, meaning that UKIP’s advance could hand Labour General Election victory in 2015 as votes on the right split more than they do on the left.

Eric Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Stirling

It’s difficult to assess the precise significance of the two by-election results. It is not uncommon for voters to support minor parties in by-election just to ‘give a kick up the backside’ to the big parties and then return to their normal allegiances.

On the hand hand UKIP have consistently been polling well (about 15% – much more than the LibDems) in opinion surveys recently. I don’t think that the EU is a particularly big issue – except where it is connected with immigration.

For many people this is the number one issue. There is deep resentment especially towards Poles, Lithuanians etc who – many voters believe – are ‘taking our jobs’, reducing wages, living on benefit (yes, I know this is a contradiction!) placing unsupportable pressure on houses, education, the health service etc. It is a dynamite issue. Feelings can often be visceral.

UKIP’s strength is that it is capitalising on and channeling these sentiments.

The Clacton result was not a surprise not least since the UKIP candidate was the former Tory MP. The Heywood and Middleton one , where Labour’s majority shrank from around 6000 to 600 was. It underlined UKIP’s undoubted appeal to working class voters, particularly older and male. So UKIP (a radical right party) represents a real threat to both major parties.

The rise of UKIP combined with the shrinking support for the LibDems makes the next general election more than ever unpredictable.

 

 

 

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