Although the political media space was too filled with Emily Thornberry’s tweet diverting attention from another UKIP victory via a defecting Tory by-election, there was, as ever, some room left for a bit of Lib Dem bashing. The Indy ran a story with the headline, “Rochester by-election: The Lib Dems knew they would suffer by entering into coalition, but no one imagined it would be this bad.” Uh, actually most of us did. Unless you are extrapolating the result in Rochester & Strood to signify the Lib Dem vote share nationwide. Then, I guess I can see what Sean O’Grady means, sort of.
Truth is, this is the kind of result we are going to see mirrored across the country come May 2015. The Liberal Democrats are going to lose a lot of deposits, being frank. Places where the party garnered thousands of votes and came second to Labour (albeit a distant second in most cases) are now going to become constituencies where our vote collapses completely. But here’s the thing: it really doesn’t matter. Because under First Past the Post, coming in second somewhere, missing first place by two votes, counts the same as coming in eighth with fourteen votes in total. All that matters is where you win. And so long as the Lib Dems can stay strong in target seats, then everything should actually be all right.
The Liberal Democrats are going to go from being a party with the least concentrated vote in the country to the most in regards to general elections. Meanwhile, I think UKIP are going to get royally done over by our electoral system. Post-Rochester and Strood by-election, my prediction on UKIP seats post-May 2015 is a grand total of two: Clacton and South Thanet. So Carswell keeps his seat, Farage gains his, while Reckless loses his back to the Tories. The by-election result was a lot better for the Conservatives than the polling indicated – and the same polling told us that the Tories would narrowly take the seat back at the general election anyhow. At the same time, I can see UKIP getting around 10% of the national vote. Again, doesn’t matter if your vote is too evenly spread under the current system.
Farage has gone on record as saying he wants to emulate the Lib Dems plan of building up local bases in order to take Westminster seats. Well Nigel, someone should have informed you that one of the twelve steps involved in that process is learning what a cruel bitch First Past the Post really can be for emerging parties. See the 1983 general election for more details.
So my message to Liberal Democrats: don’t worry about the paltry pickings in Rochester & Strood. It doesn’t signify what the political media are telling you it does. But I suspect most of you knew that already. Because after years of being done over by First Past the Post, oddly, it looks like it may come to the Lib Dems rescue next time out.