Will fringe political parties ever go “mainstream”?

Increasing frustration and apathy with the main political parties could lead to a resurgence of votes for fringe parties, according to Waleed Ghani, leader of the newly re-formed Whig party.

“It goes back to last May,” he said, “with the European Elections and the local elections. I don’t think I was alone in thinking there was nobody to vote for.”

The 2010 election was marked by poor voter turnout. Of the 45 million registered voters in the UK, only 29.7 million, or 65.1%, actually voted, according to UK Political Info. The Electoral Reform Society’s report on the 2010 General Election found the number of people who were registered to vote but didn’t was significantly larger than the number of those who voted for any of the main parties.

Ghani argues that as people get increasingly frustrating with the main political parties, they will turn to minor political parties instead. He believes this will have the effect of either encouraging minor political parties to become increasingly mainstream, or causing the main parties to change their policies to encompass the minor party policies that appeal to voters.

He said:

One of two things are going to happen. Either the fringe parties are going to become main parties, which is already happening. UKIP 10 years ago was a fringe party, and then in 2010 they got three per cent of the popular vote. Now look at them. It’s the same with the Greens and the SNP. That process is already happening.

Or, the main parties will recognise that there is a problem. They need structural change, they need to change the way they do their business. That would be great because progressive and intelligent people would have someone to legitimately vote for. But that’s not happening right now. I think ultimately it’s going to be a mix of the two.

The rise of fringe parties such as UKIP and the SNP have forced policy changes on both the Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives have had to take a harder line on immigration and Europe to placate the Eurosceptics in their party. Labour is now seen as the party that supported the “No” vote in the Scottish referendum; to win back political support in Scotland, they will need to provide policies to appease the Scottish nationalists.

Despite his dismay with the current apathy many feel towards politics, Ghani remains optimistic that political participation can be increased. The solution, he argues, is for people to set up their own political parties.

He explained:

People aren’t voting because they don’t care, or because they don’t understand what voting is, it’s because there’s no one to vote for. The answer is to provide something genuine for them to vote for.

The sense I get is that there are a lot of people who feel the same way. And rather than just complain about it and not vote, spoil the ballot paper or vote Green… there’s something we can do about it, which is to set up our own parties.

Waleed Ghani

With minor political parties becoming increasingly popular, Ghani realised there was an opportunity to revive the centuries-old Whig party, which he had always admired. He set up the party himself and will stand for election in Vauxhall in May.

The golden thread of the Whig party that ran all the way through from 1678 until 1868 and then onwards until today is the progressive ideal. The Whig view of history is that history generally can move in greater progressions of enlightenment and justice and we can help that, and the way to do that is to trust in people, trust in what unites us rather than divides us.

Among policies concerning human rights and diversity, the Whig manifesto focuses on fostering democracy and engagement by encouraging more young people to engage with politics through a reform of the electoral system.

He said:

One thing that would help is votes for 16 year olds, who are becoming politically active.

Another is online voting. The whole system of voting is really antiquated, it’s quite charming in a way but it’s just silly. Voting day comes, you go to a church hall or a school, they give you a pencil… We’re online for most other aspects of our life, voting should be no different.

Although he thinks it’s unlikely that the Whig party will get enough votes to win a seat in the May 2015 election, he thinks he’ll be happy with what he’s achieved.

“It’s about contributing to the debate,” he said. “Part of what the Whig party is about is that we believe politics should be part of a normal, civilised life – it shouldn’t just be for very narrow political opinion. So we want to encourage as many people as possible to get involved in politics.”

Minor political parties could become increasingly popular as they address the issues that appeal to the general public. This could result in fringe parties going “mainstream” as they take home a greater proportion of the vote.

To counter this, the main parties will have to assess the policies of minor parties that appeal to voters, and either adopt these for their own manifestos or broaden their appeal. They will need to address the issue of trust by providing a viable alternative to fringe parties, encouraging greater numbers of the electorate to vote and winning back their lost support.

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