Don’t understand the UK election? Here’s the simple answer…

Britain is f*cked.

Gone are the days when power was exchanged between the main political behemoths — Labour and the Conservatives. Recent years have heralded the emergence of several smaller parties with divergent and competing ideologies, each flourishing by tapping into the electorate’s increasingly visceral scorn at the political status quo.

Britain’s “first past the post” voting system (the same used to elect to Congress) was designed to create majority governments — yet for the second election running it will yield no winning margin. That’s because neither the Labour Party nor the Conservatives will get within a piss-length of the post (let alone be the first to cross it) such has been the hemorrhage of voters to the political fringe.

Without sufficient members of parliament (MPs) to form a majority, the two main parties are fated to court potential partners, such as Nigel Farage’s fiercely Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (Ukip), Nicola Sturgeon’s pro-secessionist Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), and the Liberal Democrats, cohorts in the last coalition, led by Nick Clegg (who are likely to be decimated by voters, thus limiting their influence). The Greens, alongside the nationalist party of Wales (Plaid Cymru) and the unionist DUP of Northern Ireland, complete the undercard.

Backroom negotiations start on May 8; it’s a hand of high-stakes poker with each party gambling on how much of their own agenda they can compromise in exchange for power. The Tories and Ukip form a potential center-right alliance, Labour and the SNP a prospective center-left counterbalance. No combination therein is likely to produce a stable government, with Clegg this week predicting another general election before Christmas.

This is simply democracy working, you’re no doubt squealing at the screen. Yes — a coalition government can (in theory) mean a broader range of interests is represented in Westminster. However, the core vision of Ukip is to take Britain out of the European Union, while the SNP is determined to beak up the United Kingdom.

Current Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU by 2017. The increasing popularity of Ukip, to whom the Tories have been leaking members and MPs, allied to a general suspicion towards Britain’s European partners makes an exit all the more likely, an economically ruinous outcome for both the U.K and the continent.

On the economy, the U.K.’s budget deficit is stuck at 5 percent of GDP and though the last coalition (the Tories and the Lib Dems) cut unemployment, this came at the expense of living standards, with declining wages and soaring house prices disproportionately affecting Britain’s young.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to tackle the deficit with smaller, less painful strides, allied to tax increases for the wealthy, including a levy on houses priced at more than £2 million. All very progressive, but to enact these reforms he’ll need the support of the SNP, who look set to become Britain’s third largest party.

Although the nationalists are unlikely to push for an independence vote in the next parliament (last year’s vote was defeated 55 percent-45 percent) their increasing power makes a second referendum and Scotland’s eventual dismemberment somewhat inevitable — again, with huge economic implications for the U.K. and beyond.

So here’s Sophie’s choice for Britain: leave the EU or end the UK. Think upon that the next time you’re getting charged up about Hillary’s donors or Ted’s hosts.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Nigel Farage delivers barnstorming speech to some empty chairs

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Nigel Farage delivered a barnstorming speech to an empty room on Thursday, telling several banks of chairs the West must “stand firm” and defend its “Judeo-Christian culture.”

The Ukip leader, in America to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference some 20 miles from a frosty Washington D.C., told attendees that had Britain and the US not stood together during the Second World War, “much of the world would not be free.” He then reaffirmed both nations’ shared heritage in “common law, not Sharia law.”

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Farage told some seats that ‘ISIS is the greatest threat to the free world’

“We must stand up and fight for liberty, freedom and democracy and not be cowed by political correctness,” he thundered to a deserted ballroom, adding: “We have all in the West mistakenly and in a cowardly manner pursued a policy of multiculturalism, rather than pursuing a policy in which we all come together.”

Explaining Ukip’s success in the UK, the prospective parliamentary candidate for South Thanet said that his party had come to “represent a group of people completely left behind,” blaming corporatism for the disenfranchisement of a great swathe of the UK electorate.

“We [Ukip] have become the party that stands for aspiration,” he told the vacated space. “Over-regulation and big global politics aren’t working… Ukip has crossed the class divide of UK politics.”

Daring to dip his toe in the piranha-infested waters of American politics, Farage chided the current Republican leadership for failing to appeal to the type of “patriotic” and “aspirational” voters that Ronald Reagan once inspired.

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‘Over-regulation and big global politics aren’t working’

His warm-up act was erstwhile vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. It was ironic quirk of the schedule; the Englishman offered an unsubtle warning against the extremism that has come to characterise much of the American conservative movement over the past decade: “If the Republican party is to win the next presidential election, it needs to get the people voting for it that were doing so 30 years ago… and I don’t think the Republican Party is attracting those kind of people.”

He also took issue with foreign policy decisions made by Washington and London, governments he lamented were “joined at the hip.” Farage said: “We’ve been engaged in an endless series of overseas wars and it’s time to asses whether that has been successful.”

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Farage is the man in the grey suit in the background

The Ukip leader told the desolate hall: “Every time we invade [a country], we’re told it is to make the streets of London and New York safe. Far from doing that, we’ve actually stoked the flames of militant Islamism.” He then assured the small American crowd that he wasn’t blaming them, calling the Islamic State the “greatest threat to the free world today.”

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Palin warmed up the crowd… who all left after she finished speaking

Farage said that defeating IS militants would not be done with American or British troops, but by regional armies with “boots on the ground.”

The Ukip chief left the conference destined for the less savage temperatures of Margate and his own party conference ahead of May’s crucial vote. Farage earlier indicated that he had come to America to learn how to win elections. Yet at a convention that prominently featured Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, the Ukip leader may well have taken a wrong turn somewhere over the Atlantic.

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.

Despite the dysfunction no new party is likely in Washington

NEW YORK — On Tuesday conservative activist and commentator Steve Baldwin penned an article for the right-leaning website Barbwire calling for the emergence of a third political party in the US, one made up of religious and fiscal conservatives that could supplant the Republican Party. Baldwin even proposed a leader for this new political coalition – Sarah Palin, erstwhile governor of Alaska and, memorably, the vice-presidential Republican nominee in 2008.

According to the activist, the thrust of this new political force would be to eliminate “all federal abortion funding, reversing Roe vs. Wade [the Supreme Court decision to legalise abortion], and prohibiting the Federal government from granting special rights to people based upon sexual behavior (laws that almost always infringe on our religious, property, and freedom of association rights).”

Of course, the notion of Palin leading an alliance of the faithful and the frugal all the way to the White House is fanciful. However the US does have a history of intermittent dalliances with third parties, while the current dysfunction in Washington, a deadlock that peaked with the government shutdown late last year – a period in which Gallup revealed 60% of Americans thought it was time for a third party to emerge – has led to rumblings once again.

Palin herself floated the idea of a third party in a recent interview with Fox News, asking, “If Republicans are gonna act like Democrats, then what’s the use in getting all gung ho about getting more Republicans in there?”

But if Washington is broke, allied to widespread dissatisfaction with both main political parties, why has an alternative not emerged? After all in Britain, a country in which divergent political opinions are far more cramped in the middle, a genuine third party has still found room to manifest in the form of the Liberal Democrats (four parties if Nigel Farage is to be believed).

Speaking from a conservative standpoint, Baldwin suggests the main impediment to a third party in the US is the fear that it will “weaken the GOP, thus allowing more Democrats to win”. It’s certainly a legitimate concern with Tory strategists in the UK currently wracked by similar speculations as to what extent Ukip will split the Tory vote in 2015.

“Although many Americans say they want a strong third party, there are a lot of reasons to doubt that one will establish itself as a long-term presence in American politics,” Andrew E. Busch, a Crown professor of Government and George R. Roberts Fellow at Claremont McKenna College, tells HuffPost. “For one thing, Americans can’t agree on what sort of third party they want.”

For Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, the prospect of a third party emerging is hampered by the existing parties’ grip on power.

“The two major parties do not do many things very well, but they are tremendously skilled at maintaining their duopoly over the American political system,” he tells HuffPost. “When a new issue or movement does emerge on the landscape, one party or the other invariably manages to co-opt it.”

The emergence of the Tea Party, a movement created in response to the 2008 financial crashes and galvanized by the election of the first African American president in US history, is a case in point.

Likewise the Libertarian movement, once an outlier in the GOP, which in recent years has been brought into the Republican mainstream, so much so that Rand Paul, the movement’s de facto leader, is expected to run for President in 2016. “That doesn’t leave a lot of creating room for a third party to emerge,” says Schnur.

According to Peter Levine, the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service of Tufts University, the existing system is rigged in favour of a two-party system. He tells HuffPost, “as long as legislators are elected in single-member districts where the candidate with the most votes gets the seat, two-party systems are inevitable”. As such, Levine argues, a vote for a third party invariably looks wasted.

Busch agrees that the entire electoral system favors big and broad parties, and unlike in proportional representation systems, “you get nothing for coming in second, let alone third with 15 percent of the vote”. He adds: “The most successful third parties in American history fill a space and address issues that are neglected by the major parties, make a splash for a short time, draw one or both of the big parties in their direction, then collapse.”

However, Levine suggests there are exceptions, such as when strong regional parties come to prominence: the rise of the Scottish Nationalists in Scotland is an obvious example. Another exception would be during what the academic calls “moments of disequilibrium,” such as when the old Whig Party collapsed and then the Republicans arose to fill the gap.

It’s a parallel not lost on Baldwin, whose wishful Palin-led collation, he suggests, should “do to the GOP what the GOP did to the Whig Party 150 years ago”. However, without these moments of disequilibrium, Levine argues, “systems like ours produce duopolies”.

Yet if the odds are stacked against a national third party emerging, the prospect of an independent candidate being elected to the state legislature may be more likely. Earlier this year Schnur ran as an independent candidate in California for Secretary of State, a bid he ultimately lost in the state’s June primary election.

Yet despite that defeat, the academic says he believes “even more strongly” than a year ago that “an independent candidate can be elected to statewide office”. He does, however, concede it will take a candidate with “much more time and much more money than the usual campaign” in order to “convince voters to cast their ballot in a fundamentally different way than they’ve become accustomed”.

Schnur concludes: “While the political space probably doesn’t exist for a full-fledged third party, a candidate who was better prepared and better funded than I can certainly occupy the political center that’s been vacated by the two major parties.”

This article first appeared in The Huffington Post. The original article can be found here.