Who’s going to come sixth? (or eighth?)

When the votes are counted in next month’s election it’s very likely that Ukip will gain a lot more votes than the Liberal Democrats. Yet Ukip will be lucky if they add to their current two seats, whereas the Lib Dems may well retain 25 or 30 of theirs. Our voting system produces bizarre outcomes such as this as well as acts as a powerful deterrent for new and challenger parties.

This of course all suits the established, conservative parties. It keeps unwanted and embarrassing issues well off the agenda. We can watch politicians squabbling over how much to cut or how far the deficit should be reduced to our hearts’ content. But we’re not exposed to discussion about why cuts or deficit reductions are required in the first place. It also usefully benefits the old parties by handing them a powerful ‘wasted vote’ weapon with which to discipline voters into sticking with familiar territory.

But the system is under threat. Its constraints creak as a changing kaleidoscope of micro-parties vie for consideration. Indeed, two micro-parties – Ukip and the Greens – are now poised to follow SNP and Plaid and be transformed into ‘mainstream’ parties. Which then makes the really interesting question which party will come eighth in Great Britain (Northern Ireland has had a fragmented party system for decades.)

Let’s look at micro-party performance over the past three elections. Ignoring parties which only stood only candidate, who scored the highest average vote in constituencies contested?

2001 mean vote (seats contested) 2005 mean vote (seats contested) 2010 mean % (seats contested)
1. Peoples Justice Party 7.9% (3) 1. Respect 6.8% (26) 1. Respect 6.8% (11)
2. Scottish Unionist Party 4.9% (2) 2. Community Action Party 5.6% (2) 2. British National Party 3.7% (338)
3. British National Party 3.9% (33) 3. British National Party 4.2% (119) 3. Ukip 3.6% (558)
4. Scottish Socialist Party 3.1% (72) 4. Green Party 3.3% (203) 4. Liberal Party 3.4% (6)
5. Green Party 2.7% (145) 5. Liberal Party 3.1% (14) 5. Lincs Independents 3.3% (3)
6. Liberal Party 2.3% (14) 6. Ukip 2.8% (496) 6. Trust Party 3.1% (2)
=7. Ukip 2.2% (427) 7. Residents Association of London 2.5% (2) =7. MK 1.9% (6)
=7. Socialist Alternative 2.2% (2) 8. Scottish Socialist Party 1.9% (58) =7. Socialist Alternative 1.9% (4)
9. MK 2.1% (3) 9. MK 1.7% (4) 9. Green Party 1.8% (335)
=10. Socialist Alliance 1.6% (98) =10. National Front 1.6% (13) 10. Social Democratic Party 1.7% (2)
=10. Legalise Cannabis Alliance 1.6% (13) =10. Forward Wales 1.6% (6)

Some of the relatively successful parties last time, notably the BNP, but also Respect and the Liberals, are standing far fewer candidates this time. So are the Christian Party and Socialist Labour Party.  But they’ve been replaced by some new ones. Ignoring Ukip, which is standing 624 candidates this time, and the Greens with 593, the biggest micro-party interventions this time are

Party Candidates
1. Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition 126
2. English Democrats 32
3. Cannabis is safer than alcohol 26
4. Christian Peoples Alliance 17
5. Official Monster Raving Loony Party 16
=6. National Health Action Party 12
=6. Yorkshire First 12
=8. Socialist Party of GB 10
=8. Left Unity 10
=9. Socialist Labour Party 9
=9. Communist Party of Britain 9
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