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 A renewed push to change our outdated and unfair voting system could be one unlikely byproduct of the UKIP surge.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.