The lesser evil carries the day

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Houses of ParliamentPhotos of Dave grinning pretty for the camera, his arm around Sam, are emetic. But not, one has to admit, as much as photos of Ed indulging in public foreplay with Nicola Sturgeon would be. (They’re probably not involved, but you can forgive me for getting the wrong impression.)

The day is also brightened up by the demise of the LibDems, who have lost most of their parliamentary party to the Tories, the popular vote to Ukip and some of their big hitters to oblivion.

Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes are all gone on to new careers, and Charles Kennedy can now devote all his time, as opposed to most of it, to falling down the stairs at Westminster pubs (a delightful sight to which I have personally been treated once or twice).

This raises the question of how Paddy Ashdown likes his hat cooked. He did after all promise to eat it if the exit polls painted a true picture of the LibDem downfall.

I trust Paddy’s taste in culinary matters though: he has a house in Burgundy not far from mine, and most Brits living in France are foodies. Perhaps stewing a hat in a local Irancy wine would make it palatable, but I’d rather not offer unsolicited advice. Bon appétit, Paddy!

My vote for Ukip didn’t dent the Tory majority in our constituency, as I knew it wouldn’t. With a landslide of 62.9 per cent of the vote, the incumbent Tory candidate fell just short of Putin’s support, but at least no ballot boxes were stuffed, nor any observers crippled.

There’s doom and gloom at Ukip this morning, but the party should look on the bright side. It has scored a triumphant result in popular vote, coming in third, though a disappointing one in parliamentary seats, being on course to a mere two as I write this. Moreover, Ukip finished second in 100 constituencies, increasing its 2010 score by, well, 100.

This has led to a predictable outcry to ditch the first-past-the-post system (FPTP), a cause so far dear mostly to the LibDems. This makes Ukippers sound too much like sore losers, a group never held in high esteem anywhere, and especially in Britain.

We can’t abandon an institution that has served well for centuries just because we don’t like what it’s doing today. This is too myopic and selfish for words.

Ukip’s chief appeal (to me, at any rate) is that it has the potential to become a real conservative party, as opposed to the bogus one presently usurping the name. They could thus fill a slot that may not be very wide but is still sizeable.

However, playing fast and loose with the constitution isn’t a good way of establishing conservative credentials. FPTP has persevered for centuries because it has been successful in ensuring political stability, a quality appealing not only to the English national character but also to foreign investors.

The system also reflects the underlying conviction, now terrifyingly on its way out, that there is such a thing as society, and people are its members, as distinct from atomised individuals.

Communities are the building blocks of society, just as families are the building blocks of communities. It has been assumed for centuries that those within a community have interests similar enough to be represented effectively and justly as a collective, rather than individual, entity.

This assumption has at times produced a disparity between popular vote and parliamentary representation. Hence FPTP merits another look, especially because Blairite gerrymandering created a situation where a Labour seat can be secured with fewer votes than any other party’s. But a reform shouldn’t mean destruction – or, in this case, introducing a system in which marginal parties hold government to ransom.

It’s true that, for a party supported by 3,000,000 voters, having only two MPs (the number currently projected) is unfair. Those of us who voted Ukip have every reason to feel hard done by.

But we ought to console ourselves by the thought that such concerns are transient, while the constitution is transcendent (for validation, refer to Romans 13:1 or, in a more secular mood, Reflections on the Revolution in France).

Rather than bemoaning what might – or should – have been, the party ought to congratulate itself on its huge achievements and stock up its reservoirs of patience. The Treaty of Rome wasn’t built in a day, as the saying doesn’t really go, and neither is a party hoping to repeal it.

FPTP makes it hard for third parties to become kings, but they can still act as king makers.

By the time by-elections roll along, the Tories will have made a sufficient hash of things for Ukip to beef up its parliamentary presence to a point where it could exert an even more telling effect on British politics. If nothing else, the party could push the Tories, kicking and screaming, further in the right direction.

None of us should pretend that good has triumphed. Most people weren’t so much enamoured of the Tories as horrified by the thought of a government in which Miliband’s wires would be pulled by the SNP, whose principal sentiment is hatred of the English.

That, alas, is what British politics has become: faced with the evil of two lessers, voters opt for the lesser of two evils. All we can do now is sit tight and wait to see which of his promises Dave will break first this time.

My vote goes to his promise not to contest another election.


Image credit: Shane Global

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