Could UKIP revive the debate over electoral reform?

If the party wins upwards of five per cent of the vote in 2015 but fails to win a single seat, our voting system will be called into question again.

It is a mark of UKIP's recent success that the party's second-place finish in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election has been greeted with a collective shrug by most of the political media. Back in 2010, when it was struggling under Lord Pearson, anyone who suggested that it would go on to finish second in six by-elections, from Eastleigh to South Shields, would have been laughed out of the room. Now David Cameron is deriding the party for failing to achieve "a breakthrough" on the basis that it didn't win the seat (is his new line really "it's ok if they beat us because they still can't beat Labour"?)

UKIP will still be lucky to win a seat in 2015, but it is now certain to improve significantly on the 3.1 per cent of the vote it scored in 2010. With this in mind, it's worth asking whether the rise of Farage could revive the dormant debate over electoral reform. The party supports the introduction of proportional representation and campaigned in favour of AV in the 2011 referendum. 

One can already picture the headlines should UKIP end up with nothing to show for its increased support: "Democratic outrage as UKIP wins 8% but no seats". A renewed push to change our outdated and unfair voting system could be one unlikely byproduct of the UKIP surge.

Incidentally, while neither Labour nor the Tories are likely to consent to another referendum on electoral reform in the next parliament, several Labour sources have told me that the party is considering the likely Lib Dem demand of PR for local government in any coalition negotiations. 

Nigel Farage speaks at a fringe event on the second day of the Conservative conference in Manchester Town Hall last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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