The electoral pact is a subject currently getting some attention but does it make sense in the overall scheme of things?
I can see why such an approach is attractive to both parties likely to be involved, the Conservatives, and our fledgling one, UKIP.
Assuming that such pacts actually work in the individual constituencies, more on that later, it’s easy to see that for the smaller party, particularly one with significant overall support, the certainty of gaining, for example, 5 seats may be a better bet than the possibility of gaining 30 seats or none. A level of support around 16% is problematic in that it may not be enough in any single constituency to win.
For the larger party the attraction is control. For them it is better, perhaps, to know they will lose 5 sets rather than potentially lose 30. After all 5 is a much more manageable number.
Much, also, depends, of course, in which constituencies to take the risk.
The longer term political damage is that both parties lose credibility with their own supporters but for the smaller party that could be terminal. We have seen the catastrophic desertion, of the Liberal Democrats by their supporters because of a series of betrayals and they may not achieve any parliamentary presence in 2015 and certainly not one that could exert much influence. In the case of both parties the dumped candidates would clearly be put out and it is quite possible that when the next election comes around the overall support for UKIP, not as traditionally strong as the Conservatives, may well decline through the desertion of those who feel they have been let down by the party for short term political advantage.
To balance this one must take into account the electoral advantage of actually having sitting MPs. One of the problems facing us now is that we have no MPs at all. Opposition will make much of this using the ‘wasted vote’ argument citing an absence of MPs as proof that support isn’t strong enough to elect a UKIP MP hence ‘your vote would be wasted’. Actually having MPs in parliament lessens this line of attack substantially, though not completely, so it all depends upon which longer term outcome would be best.
It is a simple comparison. Do we think the electoral advantage bestowed by having sitting MPs in parliament and the increased and practical exposure to UKIP policies that will provide outweighs the loss of electoral support that will occur in 2020? Do we also think that will be a one off loss of support or could it be recovered in 2025?
The other important factor in any electoral pact is the degree of risk in the traded seats. For UKIP and as we don’t have any seats our bargaining power is limited so we could see a negotiation offer very little more than we might be able to get on our own. For example, as we don’t have any seats we don’t have any ‘safe’ seats so the Conservatives are, at best, only likely to offer to UKIP constituencies where they themselves may not win even if we weren’t present. To counter that we should know in which seats we are strongest in which could then be dramatically improved if no Conservative opposition existed.
It ought to be considered that the electorate might not like this at all and where their favourite party is not competing many of them may decide not to vote at all which rather negates the whole point of the deal in the first place.
In reality it is very much a party calculation and if such pacts were to be proposed in any constituency we would need a raft of polling to answer these unknown questions before committing to a course of action that could see us with no seats, damage our integrity and lose future support.
A UKIP presence that prevented an overall Conservative majority, would, of course provide Mr Cameron with just the excuse he needed to betray the people once more and renege upon the referendum pledge. However, it’s a really risky manoeuvre as it would not be forgotten come 2020.