When the minority parties fail

Signpost, political parties

It is very easy to see why people are becoming dissafected with politics. In 2010, we did see turnout increase slightly, but with this up-in-the-air General Election just months away, we would hope it would rise even higher.

Well, it would not be surprising for that idea to fall flat on its face.

In recent days we have seen both Labour and the Conservatives’ reputations being tarnished, following the “cash for access” scandal from former Foreign Secretaries Malcolm Rifkind (Conservatives), and Jack Straw (Labour). The reaction from their party leaderships is telling of how they feel this drama may impact them in May.

Both were suspended from their parliamentary parties following the investigation by Channel 4 and the Telegraph; now Malcolm Rifkind has stood down from his position as Security Committee Chairman, and will step down as a Tory MP.

For Jack Straw, he had already announced he will step down as an MP at the end of this parliament.

This incident has reflected badly on the two main parties, who are already feeling pressure from rising minority parties, and Westminster scepticism. In fact, the BBC’s Taking Liberties season – looking to educate people on the UK political system – has perhaps not worked in the Establishment’s favour.

Inside the Commons, which was broadcast on BBC2, did indeed show the incredible history of our political system, but has also highlighted its trivialities. Filibusters, out-dated legislative processes, snobbery, and back-room dealing, do not do the Establishment any favours.

Of course, the only way to combat this – some would say – is to not vote for the big two parties, who appear to be stuck in a time warp, and the epiphany of the “Westminster Establishment”.

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So people are, naturally, heading to the minority parties.

UKIP, the Greens, SNP, have shaken up the old party political system, and are said to be breaking down the dated “first past the post” voting system. Or are they?

Recently, the fringe/minority parties seem to be falling into disarray. Bad media coverage, leadership mess-ups, and public scrutiny are contributing to some of the main minority parties beginning to look like a good bit of pre-election entertainment, but not much else.

For instance, UKIP have been left red-faced following a lot of public outrage and scepticism after Channel 4’s UKIP: The First 100 Days. Ofcom has received 6500 complaints since the spoof docudrama aired last week. Another damaging programme on the BBC called Meet the Ukippers also tarnished UKIP’s already darkened image.

Party members who say they have a “problem with negroes” are doing the party no favours, as Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll has show. Ashcroft found UKIP support in his poll had slumped a full 5 points in just a week following the Channel 4 programme, bringing them down to the lowest level they have been at since the peer began his analysis – down to 11%.

Lord Ashcroft noted, after one of the party members said she has a “problem with negroes” in the BBC programme: “Some also wonder whether unpleasant or even sinister elements lurk behind the reasonable and entertaining Mr Farage, a suspicion that may have been reinforced over the last few days.”

While UKIP battle with their association with racism and anti-immigration, a similar amount of face-palming is going on at the Green Party headquarters.

The Green Party leader Natalie Bennett had what she described as an “excruciating” mind blank in an interview with LBC Radio before her party launched its GE manifesto. You can listen to the interview here.

She fumbled over her party’s housing policy, when she said she would build half a million homes with £2.7bn. Interviewer Nick Ferrari responded: “Five hundred thousand homes – £2.7bn? What are they made of – plywood?” The car crash interview follows one of a similar nature she had on the BBC Sunday Politics show just weeks before.

Asked by Andrew Neil how her party would raise the £280bn needed to fund her so-called “citizens income”, she failed to provide a full answer. The “citizens income” is a minimum £72 a week pay for everyone, “whether they need it or not”. Since then, Ms Bennett has said the “citizens income” will not be implemented in the next parliament – despite it being in their manifesto.

Furthermore, at a press conference following her LBC interview, her party said Ms Bennett would not be answering any questions on their election manifesto, even though the press conference was for their campaign launch.

Where does this leave us, then? The two main parties are tripping up just 71 days until the General Election on May 7, and now the two UK-wide fringe parties are stumbling over trivial matters.

The SNP are doing very well in current polls, with some saying they may pick up 40 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats – squeezing out Scottish Labour. Yet, the SNP are not a UK-wide party, and no matter how much Nicola Sturgeon attempts to convince English voters that a Labour-SNP coalition would be better for everyone, it is unlikely she will be heard.

It is a great shame that these blunders are happening across the board; they only reaffirm people’s low expectations of UK politics. This is not the time for botch political interviews, speeches, and damaging television coverage. With such an exciting election on the horizon these mess-ups cannot become a regular feature.

In 2010, the most infamous interview between Gordon Brown and Gillian ‘bigoted woman’ Duffy was the perfect depiction of what people feel is wrong with our party system. People are now turning to the minority, antiestablishment parties.

But if they fail, where do they go? Not vote at all, or – maybe worse – go even further to the edges of the political spectrum.

What we must not allow to happen is for them to fall right off the edge of the spectrum, and be disaffected forever.

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