Posts Tagged ‘fringe parties’

The smaller parties are niche vehicles for protest voters. They shouldn’t try to be coherent

24/02/2015, 02:51:50 PM

Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument” observed William Gladstone. “The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic.

Natalie Bennett has experienced that chill touch in what has inevitably been dubbed a “car crash” interview with Nick Ferrrari on LBC this morning.

Amid long, deathly pauses, the Greens’ leader couldn’t explain how she would fund the 500,000 new social houses the party is committed to building.

Commendably short on spin, she later described her performance as “absolutely excruciating”.

Her strategic mistake was to even try.

Although the Greens, like UKIP, have no realistic prospect of forming a majority government in May, they have fallen into the trap of accepting the burden of proof expected of the main parties who do hope to.

So Bennett shoots for financial credibility and misses. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage cracks down on UKIP’s red-trousered eccentrics for saying the ‘wrong’ outrageous things. They shouldn’t bother. They are succeeding despite their obvious flaws.

We may expect ministers and their shadows to have detailed policy on everything from agriculture to youth services, but is there anyone considering voting UKIP or Green because of their views on apprentices, or business support grants?

They are what we used to call single-issue parties, representing, to borrow Aneurin Bevan’s phrase, “an emotional spasm”. People aren’t voting for them because of their realism.

They are a release valve for those who are either terminally disenchanted with the mainstream or are well-off enough to avoid the appeal of pocket-book politics and let their cross on the ballot paper reflect their “post-material values”.

UKIP is home for those who rail against the dying of the light as Johnny Foreigner’s jackboot looms over this scepter’d isle. By embracing low-fi political correctness and reacting to media stories about the endless gaffes from its candidates, UKIP undermines its essential raison d’etre.

Similarly, the Greens’ anti-growth, anti-car, hemp-shirted idealism chimes with well-educated urban trendies who don’t like Labour and are turned-off the Lib Dems. Their appeal is not going to grow because Natalie Bennett suddenly embraces fiscal rectitude.

The smaller parties are niche vehicles for protest voters. They are not going to sweep the country in May. The best they can hope for is to localise their support in enough places to make a bridgehead.

The danger for them is that by playing to the big boys’ rules, our smaller, newer, woolier insurgents will get found out in the intense glare of a general election campaign. They need to keep their offer simple.

What Natalie Bennett should have said this morning is that the Greens want a law compelling central and local government to work in partnership to plan and provide enough social housing to meet need.

Simple, rhetorical and internally coherent enough to bluster through a radio interview.

“Yurts for all,” so to speak.

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Are we seeing a reverse squeeze?

22/01/2015, 10:26:11 AM

One of the underlying assumptions of polling behaviour is that, like homing pigeons, voters always return from whence they came when general elections come around.

Yes, they enjoy their freedom as they stretch their wings and soar about all over the political landscape, but when it comes to deciding who actually runs the country, they fly back to their familiar coup.

Judging by current polls, however, they’re cutting it fine.

Tuesday’s ICM poll showed a fifth of voters are still saying they will vote for UKIP (11 per cent) or the Greens (9 per cent).

So what happens if the Tories don’t manage to squeeze UKIP and convince a big chunk of disgruntled former Conservatives to return to the fold?

What if all the media beastings of Nigel Farage and his troops in recent weeks end up having little effect? Indeed, what if UKIP’s insurgency is a symptom of a structural change taking place in British politics rather than a cyclical blip?

For Labour, there are two windpipes to choke. Ed Miliband needs to retain those Lib Dem voters who have abandoned Nick Clegg since 2010 as well as stopping the Greens from becoming a permanent fixture on the party’s left flank. The Greens current polling is their best performance in 20 years.

We are at that point in the political cycle where people have started referring to the looming election in terms of weeks, not months. Admittedly there is still time for things to change, but what usually happens during the short campaign is the Lib Dems rise a few points, a result of voter frustration with Labour and Tory to-ing and fro-ing.

What is to stop something similar happening in May, only with UKIP and the Greens (not forgetting the SNP) benefiting instead of the shop-soiled Lib Dems? Indeed, what if reports of Nick Clegg’s demise are exaggerated and the Lib Dems improve their position too? This would put a very big hole in Ed Miliband’s electoral bucket.

All of which is to reinforce the self-evident fact that British politics is now in a highly volatile state. (Hence the proliferation of question marks in this piece).

So much so, that 2015 may well be remembered as the first election where it was the main parties who were squeezed by the political fringe, not the other way around.


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