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

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.