An article from the Guardian yesterday revealed that the Hampshire police are investigating a possible intelligence sharing operation run between Royston Smith, the Conservative candidate for Southampton Itchen who is now that constituency’s MP, and Kim Rose, the UKIP candidate in the same seat. The Tory MP has admitted to giving the UKIP candidate advice and even making up leaflets for him to distribute; he denies giving over canvassing data, which is where the criminality, if it exists although this is a grey area which has more to do with ICO concerns than electoral law, is said to be questioned.
But of course the reason it’s news comes down to the politics around it. A Tory PPC and a UKIP one in cahoots to shaft the Labour candidate – how undemocratic, many will howl. I’ll leave myself out of any moral judgements on the whole affair to say the following: you’d better get used to this sort of thing, because it’s going to happen a lot from now on.
The electoral system we have is designed specifically for two parties only. What happened to the Lib Dems over the last decade is the perfect example of this. A third party gains seats until it is put into an impossible position: either go into government as a junior partner, prop up one of the parties in a minority situation, or stay pure. The first one wipes you out, as we saw on May 7th; the middle one almost certainly has the same effect; the last one simply demonstrates that you have no real purpose. This is one of the reasons it was such a perfect result this time for the SNP: almost maximising the number of seats they could have received, but with no need to make any of the tough choices presented to the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 election.
With this in mind, the Rose-Smith connection, however far it went and whatever was involved, makes perfect sense. You have one candidate that can win and another that has virtually no chance but wants to come second to build a sense of momentum. Add in a frisson of ideological compatibility. Why not work together on a limited basis to crush the common enemy? Like I say, the electoral system not only encourages such behaviour, it downright demands it. Part of its purpose is to get parties like UKIP to get absorbed back into one of the two big boys again. The Rose-Smith stuff is First Past the Post’s bread and butter.
By the way, I’m not using this as some way of unnecessarily demonising FPTP. It’s just that we need an honest conversation about how we’d like politics to be run in this country and recognising all of our electoral system’s weaknesses, along with its strengths, is a good place to begin.