In the United Kingdom*, there are no partisan political primaries. In their electoral system, the party bosses (and in the case of the Labour party, the unions) hand-pick the candidates. It’s like the Virginia GOP, but even more so.
So the conservative upstarts, their equivalent of our TEA party, had to go to a third party out of necessity. And last night, The UK Independence Party (UKIP) won its first seat in Parliament in the party’s 24 year history.
Douglas Carswell, Conservative Party member of Parliament for Clacton, a town in Essex, resigned from the party because the Conservative Party leadership “aren’t serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs.” His party resignation triggered a special election, which he ran in on the UKIP line. The situation was much like Phil Gramm quitting the Democrats and the House, and running for the seat again as a Republican.
Carswell won the election handily. In the 2010 General Election, Carswell won as a conservative, beating the Labour candidate 53-25. However as a UKIP in the special election, he won by a greater margin: 60-25-11, defeating the Conservative and Labour candidates.
While this is a special case, this is major news for reformer conservatives in the UK. While UKIP has been doing well for years in European Union elections, taking advantage of the EU’s proportional representation system to become the #3 party in 2004, the #2 party in 2009, and finally winning in 2014, UKIP had not been able to break through the (mostly) two party system that exists in the UK’s domestic elections.
Two party systems stabilize because First Past the Post systems create that kind of stability. These sort of elections ensure that political power rests in the hands of the majority, unlike other European sorts of systems where the fringe gains vastly disproportionate influence.
So it’s been a difficult fight for UKIP, and conservatives in the UK, to deal with a system where two left-wing parties (as the Labour party always was, and the Conservative party has become) dominate the system, and have no primary process for grass roots change to happen. The fact that they finally won a seat, is a great victory for UK conservatives, and a defeat for the squishy Conservative Party leadership.
It’s too soon to tell whether Douglas Carswell will be the UK’s answer to Marco Rubio, energizing activists and candidates, and predicting a great UKIP result in the 2015 general election. The odds are still against them. But last night, they won, and I hope they make the most of it.
* It’s nice to be able to write that after the socialist Scottish National Party lost the referendum to dissolve the union.