Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Beyond the Liberal Democrats

The coverage of next week's election in the UK is dominated by the story of the surging Liberal Democrats. But there are a clutch of small parties with regionally concentrated support that could end up playing at least a big a role after the election as the Liberal Democrats. But the press barely mentions them. Indeed, the polls that Nate Silver at bases his UK election forcast on don't even report individual results for these smaller parties. In his defense, Silver does explain that his forcasts have the Conservatives doing so well that they would not need the Liberal Democrats to form a government but could, instead, rely upon several of these smaller regional parties and right wing parties. So who are these parties? Here is my off the cuff explanation of who they are and their place in current British politics.

Scottish National Party: Back in the day they were laughed off as the "Scottish Nose Pickers" they are a serious player in Scottland now. With the establishment of a Scottish parliament (by Blair's Labour government), the SNP has emerged as a serious electoral force at the regional and local level. Ideologically, they are a center-left party that also advocates greater autonomy if not outright independence for Scotland. A particular concern for the SNP is that Scotland benefit more from the North Sea oil industry than they have so far. While nominally nationalists, it would be a mistake to think of this party as a right wing group. They currently have 7 seats in the House of Commons. The SNP is not a likely coalition partner for the Conservatives or supporter of a Conservative minority government. (update/amendment: Even if the SNP did go into coalition with the Conservatives, they would likely force similar compromises as the Liberal Democrats).

Plaid Cymru: This is the Welsh national party. They currently have 3 seats in the House of Commons. Like the SNP, Plaid Cymru is primarily concerned with regional autonomy from London. They work closely with the SNP (and are in the same party group in European Parliament). They are generally center-left in outlook but prefer to emphasize other dimensions (such as Welsh autonomy). In recent elections, they have added a significant environmentalist element to their platform. Plaid Cymru is not a likely coalition partner for the Conservatives or supporter of a Conservative minority government. (update/amendment: Even if Plaid Cymru did go into coalition with the Conservatives, they would likely force similar compromises as the Liberal Democrats).

Democratic Unionist Party: This is a party the Conservatives might count on for support in the House of Commons. The party was founded by Ian Paisley. They currently have 8 seats in the House of Commons. This is a right wing, socially conservative party of anti-Catholic, sectarian protestants (especially Presbyterians). It would be fair to place this party to the right of the Conservatives on many policy dimensions.

British National Party: The BNP is the classic, stereotypical far-right party in the UK. They are anti-immigrant, anti-EU, protectionist, anti-market, right wing extremists. This is the closest thing to a fascist party in the UK. They currently have no seats in the House of Commons. However, Gordon Brown's recent "I didn't know the mic was on" gaffe referring to an elderly Labour supporter as a "bigot" after she complained to him about immigrants (at about 1 minute 30 seconds into the video) may play into the BNP's hands. Parties like the BNP seek support among the working class demographics that used to be Labour's base. Brown's comments may lead to a spike in BNP support. I doubt they'll get many seats but if they got a couple of seats here or there, they and the DUP could provide some support for a minority Conservative government.

United Kingdom Independence Party: UKIPs raison d'etre is opposition to the European Union. Most of their early leaders/members were dissafected Euro-skeptical Torries. While Euro-skepticism is not inherently right wing or left wing, UKIP comes at it with a decidely right wing populist tone. That said, where the BNP presents itself as anti-market and protectionist, UKIP presents itself as both nationalist and pro-market. In American terms you can think of the BNP as something like a cross between the KKK and Pat Buchanon's supporters. UKIP would be more like the faction of the Tea Party crowd that go nuts for Ron Paul. Of course Ron Paul has better manners than many UKIP leaders. Here is a youtube clip of a UKIP Member of the Euroepan Parliament displaying his diplomatic skills (my apologies to any Belgians or Greeks who watch this, I in no way agree with the gentleman's views about Belgium or Greece). There are currently no UKIP seats in the House of Commons but the ongoing crisis in Greece may boost their support. It is worth noting as well as that the Liberal Democrats are easily the most solidly PRO EU party in the UK. Anti-incumbent voters who are also anti-EU, may well turn to UKIP. Like the BNP, they are unlikely to win many seats. But also, like the BNP, if they did win a seat here or there they would be a likely source of support for a minority Conservative government.

So where does this leave us? Well, if Nate Silver's projection is on to something, it means that the Conservatives would need a huge year for the DUP, BNP and UKIP to really have a shot at keeping the Liberal Democrats out of government. That's possible. The implications would be at least as shocking as a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. If DUP, BNP and UKIP end up being the king makers it would put the UK in the same catagory as Austria, Italy and Denmark where mainstream center-right political parties have been willing to depend on the far right to stay in power.


The Law Talking Guy said...

What about Sinn Fein, which never takes its seats? What if it took its seats?

The thing about Nate silver's prediction is that he has to be VERY right for this to happen as he suggests. IF he's off by 10 seats or so, it won't come up.

XYBØRG said...

As the third and final debate looms, Gordon Brown's fateful encounter with Rochdale resident Gillian Duffy ~ who is rapidly emerging as the “Joe the Plumber” of the British general election after the PM had haplessly disparaged her as a bigot for her views on immigration ~ could mark the moment when the British National Party really entered the race to No.10. With a hung parliament looking like the likeliest outcome of this election, the BNP may very well ride Mrs Duffy's “immigration” coat-tails and end up securing anything up to 20% (or more) of the final vote, thus placing BNP leader Nick Griffin in the position of KINGMAKER of this election and the man whom the three main political parties would have to court if they are to stand any chance of governing. Britain could thus be faced with the totally unforeseen prospect of a post-election coalition, not unlike the one which emerged in Germany in 1932-33, in which a Tory-BNP, Labour-BNP or Liberal Democrat-BNP regime would ultimately assume power in the United Kingdom.

29 April 2010

Raised By Republicans said...


You're right about the numbers. If the Nate Silver predictions are off by enough seats, the Lib Dems could be right back in the driver's seat. Alternatively, if the Conservatives get more seats than he expects (probably the most likely way for his prediction to be wrong), they could form a single party government with none of the fuss.


I think the prospect of the BNP winning 20% of the vote is extremely unlikely. Even if they did, their support is not concentrated enough geographically to make them much of a player in this. As I suggested, they might, in combination with DUP and UKIP, be able to support a Conservative government. But there are serious impediments to actual participation in government by the BNP. There is no way that Labour or the Liberal Democrats will go into coalition with a group of hate mongering fascists. I doubt that the Conservatives would officially do so either. The Conservatives might be willing to use BNP electoral success to set up a minority government of Conservatives alone, like we currently see in Denmark.

Raised By Republicans said...

Sinn Fein advocates a united Ireland. That alone takes them out of the Conservatives' coalition calculations. But even their other political positions are more or less left of center.