Friday, May 3, 2013

Why UKIP's Success Could Be Good For The Liberal Democrats

Throughout UKIP’s campaign in recent months, much has been said about the ‘ConLibLab’ consensus, and how they are aiming to break through. And there is no denying that UKIP have achieved spectacular results in this week’s county council elections.
But, as I argued in a previous article (‘The War of Two Coalitions’ – 8 July 2012), if there is a political ‘consensus’, surely it is the two-party coalition between the Conservatives and Labour which has existed since 1945 with the mutual desire of both parties to resist any genuine political change and reforms. Surely we too should aim at bringing this down?
True, at present, the Liberal Democrats are in a national coalition with the Conservatives, but this is a temporary five year deal. At the end of the day, the Conservatives will always side with Labour and vice versa, and resist Lib Dems, UKIP or anyone interfering with their game.
In what ways are the Liberal Democrats closer to those sharing our aim of breaking this consensus?
Voting reform: both the Conservatives and Labour parties have resisted any change to our voting system. In 1979, Labour went back on their promise of PR for European elections in return for the Lib-Lab pact. Granted, the Conservatives allowed a referendum for AV in 2011, but then used their vast resources to shoot it down. Ed Miliband’s support was half-hearted at best. Most of Labour will have remembered that Labour won a healthy majority in 2005 with only 35% of the votes.
On the other hand, both the Lib Dems and UKIP support a campaign for fair votes. Both parties support voting reform, albeit through different methods, they both favour the principle of a PR based system to make a fairer reflection of people’s votes.  Whereas the big two will defend First-Past-The-Post to the death.
Lords reform: Labour decided to backtrack on their previous promises and collude with Tory rebels to block any change to the Lords. Can we trust a future Labour government to reform this retirement home for politicians? Of course not. UKIP, on the other hand, have supported an 80-20 split, similar to previous plans.
Party funding: the Conservative party have vast unlimited resources. Labour, maybe not to the same extent, also has immense wealth. Lib Dems and UKIP, on the other hand, both raise money with car boot sales and quiz nights. I don’t know UKIP’s views on party political funding but I imagine they would be open to change.
Written constitution: both parties have floated the idea of a written constitution to establish the rights of the individual and the powers and limitations of the legislative and executive bodies. This is something which could be worked on.
Right to recall: both parties support the right to recall MPs for misconduct, for example, over expenses, something the big two have always resisted.
These are just a few examples, and a browse through UKIP’s constitutional policy document is interesting reading, but it is clear that, when it comes to changing the system, and the ‘political consensus’, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are both in favour of drastic changes to the status quo, and have much more in common with each other than either do with the Conservatives or Labour.
But what about policies, I hear you say? Yes, it is true that on EU membership, immigration and the environment, the two parties are far apart – but there may be elements where we can work together – the basic tax rate for example where both support taking the minimum wage out of tax. We have proved we can work with the Conservatives, despite the large policy gaps that are there and still exist.
And we are not talking about a formal coalition or agreement. What I would like to see is the Liberal Democrats and UKIP working together on political and constitutional reform alongside liked-minded people from other parties to finally bring our politics into the 21st century (it has barely made it to the 20th).
The point is: both parties will remain on the long-term fringes of British politics unless we see genuine political change in this country.
Already some Conservatives are talking about Con-UKIP council administrations to 'bring UKIP back'. Many Conservatives see UKIP as a temporary group of ex-Tories all waiting to dash back home once we are out of the EU. Then, before we know it, we will be back to the world of Con-Lab majority governments – ‘back to normal’ as the media would have it.
It depends on whether UKIP genuinely want to become a long-term political party in their own right. And whether they would join those of us who cry out for modernisation and political reform.
But, for now, I cannot be sorry to see more votes go to UKIP and away from the Con-Labs. Every success for UKIP is a success for those of us who genuinely want to break down the ‘political consensus’ and, with that in mind, UKIP successes could be good for the Liberal Democrats - so perhaps we should wish them well.

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