Smaller Parties: the Rise of Representation

Abigail Lofthouse investigates the rise of smaller parties in recent elections, ahead of GE 2015.

With the build-up to the general election, it seems politics is stretching out from the centre. People are realising there are more choices than red, yellow or blue; smaller parties are growing in popularity.

We all remember this time last year when UKIP took the social media spotlight. Nigel Farage’s obnoxious face was plastered all over our Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds – the worst part about it was, more than half the posts that fuelled this were actually people arguing against UKIP. Anti-fascism rants aided Farage’s popularity and awareness: everyone was talking about him and everyone had an opinion. Shortly after this, UKIP went on to win two seats in parliament: Clacton-on-Sea in October, then Rochester and Strood in November. Sadly, their unplanned publicity had worked.

Whilst the UKIP phenomenon simmered, the Green party began to emerge. People realised complaining about UKIP had actually done the opposite of what they wanted, so they began promoting their views rather than arguing against others. With this, pro-Green and pro-Labour statuses began appearing. Luckily, this happened just in time for last year’s local elections. The Green party won 23 seats and now have 162 councillors on 56 local councils. Sadly, UKIP did a lot better than the Greens, totalling 163 councillors at the end of the night. In the 2014 European elections, UKIP went on to get 27.5% of the vote.

Another Green growth came after an online petition trying to get the Green party involved in upcoming election debates. It began its rounds on social media and got almost 300,000 signatures. The Greens were victorious; the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Sky confirmed Green Party, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru would be involved in one election debate. They were working their way up – no longer could people ignore these smaller parties.

I spoke to the Green party’s Fareham candidate, Miles Grindey, about why smaller parties are gaining more support. He told me it is mainly due to their transparency as a party. People know where the Green party stand, what they believe in and that they are proactive rather than reactive. “We offer an alternative,” he announced confidently. “We offer policies that put people and our planet first.”

He also spoke about why the Green Party is so appealing to students. “We offer students hope, a chance to let them know that things can be done differently, we want to get rid of tuition fees, end austerity, save our planet with bottom-up approaches.” He argues that his party gives progressive solutions for the problems in society, such as the introduction of a living wage (£8.10 per hour). “We don’t have to sit in silence, we don’t have to live with fear, to paraphrase ‘You’re The Voice’ by John Farnham. We are capable of working together rather than against each other. It’s because we provide hope and not fear or defeatism.”

From the other side of the political spectrum, I spoke to Stuart Agnew, a UKIP MEP, who told me why there had been a rise in people voting for UKIP. He said voters are no longer represented by ‘traditional’ party politicians as they are only interested in “climbing the greasy pole of politics”. He states that parliamentary expenses scandals and broken electoral promises have “hardened attitudes”. He tells me an anecdote that summarises this: “I saw this when out leafleting this weekend. A gentleman standing in his front garden asked me which ‘lot’ I was from. When I replied that I was the local UKIP candidate, he said: ‘That’s good. I don’t want any of the other lot’ and took my literature from me.”  Stuart also says voters are looking for something new and different: “a party that speaks their language. That is what UKIP provides.”

Smaller parties agree their support is escalating. This is because they focus on the specific issues people care about, such as the environment and immigration. These are topics the main parties often avoid because their voters have so many contrasting opinions on it. But avoiding this does no good – it makes people feel their opinions aren’t heard.

I asked President of the University of Portsmouth’s Labour society, Ryan Carter, for his opinion on why people are switching to smaller parties. He told me “they see a party with eye-grabbing policies and no negative history from previous administrations”. UKIP and Green haven’t had to deal with problems that would test their policies, nor have they had the experience of being in government – this may put some voters off. But, there’s no point in assuming they’ll fail in government before they get the chance to prove us wrong – if we’d done that with every party previously, where would we be today?

People have lost trust in the main parties. Labour hasn’t the best record after several unwanted wars. Ed Miliband doesn’t exactly help – as harsh as it is, people don’t want to be associated with him. The Conservatives’ track record isn’t great either after four years in government and failing to make promised changes to immigration and taxes. When it comes to the Liberal Democrats, all I need to say is ‘tuition fees’ to spark millions of students’ anger.

So really there’s no choice. Some students will move from Lib Dem to Green because of their plans to eradicate tuition fees. People opposed to immigration may still vote Conservative but most will move to UKIP. The die-hard Labour supporters will continue their unbreakable trust. The far-left with no ties to parties will float between the Respect Unity Coalition, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), the Greens, and spoiling the ballot.

The rise in support for smaller parties may mean we’ll be seeing more of UKIP, but with this will come more support for the Greens and SNP too. Extreme groups may develop with this growth of smaller parties, but that is simply a by-product of democracy. 2015 could be the year for smaller parties – we’ve just got to let them bloom.

Photography by Sarah Cheverton.