In the past year Nigel and Ukip won support but not power. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Ukip are the least powerful nationalist party in Europe

Since the crisis, coalitions of the right and populist right have become the norm - but under the British electoral system, Ukip are shut out.

Ukip may have dominated the political agenda last year, and become a part of politics, but they are the least powerful established nationalists in Europe.

Take Macedonia. It is run by nationalists – more specifically, the ‘Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity’ – who have repaved Skopje, its capital city, with nationalist monuments.

43 per cent of Macedonians voted for the party last year, and they hold 50 per cent of the seats. Ukip won 13 per cent of the vote here last month, but hold just 1 seat, or 0.2 per cent of those available. Only France’s National Front can match that level of futility.

Ukip have less direct influence on government than nationalists in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Estonia, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Ireland, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and Armenia.

Ukip won fewer seats for their votes last month than the Lib Dems ever won in the decades they spent being ill-served by Britain’s system. In Christmas we estimated that the party have missed out on nearly 1,250 seats since 1945, compared to the number they would have won under a proportional system.

Nigel Farage’s party, and Nigel Farage, are now suffering in the same way. They would have won around 85 seats under a proportional system.

If we ever did move to a proportional system, and their level of support holds, Tory-Ukip coalitions would be our most form of government. The two parties won 49.8 per cent of the popular vote last month.

For a long time, voting reform was a way for lefties to keep the Tories out. That would have been the case in 1983 (and every post-war election), if the Lib Dems have won seats proportionally and partnered with Labour. But now such a system would serve the Tories.

A Lab-Lib bloc would have less than 40 per cent of the vote. To approach a majority they would need to partner with the SNP and Greens as well, and form the large, multi-party blocs that most of Europe is used to.

But with the Tories in power, and Labour nostalgic about the landslides First Past The Post can deliver, proportional voting seems a distant prospect. And that means Ukip is likely to remain Europe’s least effective nationalist party for years to come.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.