Reckless choices?

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 21st November 2014

After Clacton, comes Rochester and Strood. At the start of the campaign, the Conservatives felt they stood a good chance of winning this second by-election caused by a Conservative MP defecting to UKIP.

In comparison to Clacton, it should have been a much easier ride. Clacton is the most demographically friendly seat to UKIP in the country. Douglas Carswell is a high-profile local MP with a well-respected ability to campaign and a huge personal vote.

On the other hand, the UKIP experts Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford list Rochester and Strood as the 271stfriendliest seat for the party. Mark Reckless lacks the same level of popularity as Carswell across his constituency.

The fact that UKIP won is a reminder that local demography isn’t everything. Attitude plays a big role in UKIP support, which as Eric Kauffman outlines, undoubtedly had an impact in Rochester and Strood.

According to Goodwin and Ford’s comprehensive study of the rise of UKIP, Revolt on the RightUKIP voters are primarily motivated by three things: immigration, Europe and discontent with the political establishment.

This last issue seems to get the least attention from the established parties. Which is odd, because it was also a primary driver of Yes votes in Scotland. Polling by Lord Ashcroft shows 74% of Scottish Yes voters cited ‘disaffection with Westminster politics’ as one of their top three reasons for voting Yes.

We are seeing the emergence of a new party system as anti-establishment challengers arise against established parties.

The British Election Study is a comprehensive study of UK voters that is conducted at every general election. With big sample sizes (30,000 on the internet panel data) we can look deeply into the views of individual party supporters. It also features questions on British democracy. Using this we can compare the views of those who support the main three ‘established’ parties, with those of the three main challenger parties – UKIP, the SNP and the Greens.

Established Parties Challenger Parties
Statement Conservatives Labour Lib Dems UKIP SNP Greens All Respondents
Express low (3/7 or below) trust in MPs in general 31.8% 55.2% 39.2% 77.1% 73.3% 72.8% 54.0%
Agree or Strongly Agree that ‘Politicians don’t care what people like me think’ 45.2% 70.1% 50.6% 82.9% 79.1% 75.3% 63.5%
Agree or Strongly Agree that ‘Politicians only care about people with money’ 29.1% 73.7% 49.6% 71.0% 78.6% 73.4% 57.5%
Very dissatisfied or only a little dissatisfied with UK democracy 22.6% 45.5% 40.3% 60.8% 74.2% 66.7% 42.0%


As you can see, supporters of the new challenger parties show much higher dissatisfaction with democracy than those who support the more traditional, established, parties. Only on “politicians only care about people with money” does a traditional party – Labour – show higher belief in the negative view. And this is a statement with which conventional Labour supporters would traditionally be expected to agree.

This facet is vital in understanding the rise of these new forces. While the three challenger parties vary widely on ideology and mission, the thing their supporters all share is a disdain for the current political order. On this issue, UKIP, the Greens and the SNP look more like each other than they do other parties on their ‘side’.

Such voters cannot be won back by policy offers which parties think they want to hear. Promises like these don’t hold weight with voters that have lost trust.

If the traditionally established parties want to win back these voters, it is imperative that they reduce the gap between politicians and people. Trust must be restored, or attempts to win over UKIP, SNP and Green voters will simply fail.

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