A Political Lesson from the United Kingdom

The Grand Union Flag
This was America's first flag, believe it or not.

I want to use this story from the U.K. to teach my fellow American friends a lesson about third-party politics. While small third-parties exist in the U.K., they are relatively small and insignificant in their control of the government. The same goes for America. However, if they can muster just 2%-3% of an electorate, that can be enough to swing close elections in favour of one big party candidate or another. Thus, the losing big party has to find a way to attract that 2%-3% back into the big tent to win the next election cycle.

In the U.K. the Parliament in Westminster is dominated by two major political parties. The situation is similar to the U.S. The two major parties in the U.K. are the Conservative Party (otherwise known as the Tories) and the Labour Party. To compare, Conservatives are in some ways similar to America's Republican Party, and Labour is similar to the Democratic Party.

Please, no comments or emails on how that's a really poor comparison. I know it is. Still, you have to consider that I'm writing to Americans here, most of whom have no idea of how our own political system works, let alone that of another country. I have to use some common frame of reference here, and this is the best I can do. So bear with me.

Now, the two parties (Conservative and Labour) control the Parliament. However, the Parliament is also made up of a number of small third-party officers. Currently, eighty-two of the Parliament's 650 seats are controlled by small third-party officers. That's just a fraction, but when you consider that all of these parties work together to form coalitions on certain issues, the votes can come down very close, sometimes with just a few in the majority. So big parties have to work with the small parties, doing a little appeasement on various key issues, to gain their support for votes on issues the big parties deem important.

Now the United States does not have a Parliamentary system. Our system is a Republic, and that is different. It's also controlled by big money, so getting small parties into the national government is near impossible. However, this same kind of political bartering, between big parties and small parties can still happen in America. It's just that in America, it usually has to happen outside of Washington D.C. instead of inside. This is because getting third-party candidates to win elections is nearly impossible. Still, the success of a third-party candidate of just 2%-3% of an electorate, can determine which major party candidate (Democrat or Republican) wins an election. For example; let's say a state has a close Senate race in progress. The Democratic candidate is polling at about 48%. The Republican candidate is polling at about 47%. The remaining votes are split between 3% undecided and 2% going to some small third-party candidate. This isn't even a national third-party. It's just a state third-party, that is only active in one state. Now, assuming the 3% undecided vote will probably split evenly both ways, what would either major party candidate be willing to do to secure that 2% vote from the state third-party? Ideally, if one of those major party candidates can offer a sweet enough deal, they can get the third-party candidate to drop out completely and endorse the major party candidate that cuts the deal. How does he do that? Simple. He just adopts the major issue(s) the third-party candidate is running on, and promises the third-party candidate an appointment to an important supportive role in his senatorial staff.

What I'm doing here is outlining the future of American politics by unofficially mimicking (behind closed doors) the U.K. political system. As an example, I'm going to use the most recent British election. One of the key issues on the table in this last election was the membership of the U.K. in the European Union. To sum it up, a lot of Brits want out of the E.U. To capitalise on this, a new small third-party was formed called the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP). It ran almost exclusively on this issue. It has some other issues too, but this was the driving one. They ran a splendid campaign, and became the talk of the whole nation. What kind of political victory did they have to show for it? Virtually nothing. They only picked up one seat in Parliament. It was very disappointing. Why? How could a party that ran such a strong campaign on such a popular issue only end up with one seat in Parliament? I'll tell you why. The Conservatives (Tories) saw the threat of UKIP, and they knew that it could result in an electoral disaster for them. So they simply adopted the UKIP key issue of getting the U.K. out of the European Union. However, they advocated a more gradual approach, using a referendum process, to determine what the will of the people is, and at what level the U.K. should be involved in the European Union. In other words, they stole the key UKIP issue, and moderated it, so as to make is sound more level-headed and sensible, appealing to a broader coalition of people. The result? The Tories one a landslide victory with a hundred seat majority, defeating Labour, and leaving UKIP with only one seat in Parliament. Of course, that one UKIP officer is likely to caucus with the Tories too, provided the Tories continue to take U.K. exit from the E.U. seriously. Today, I just read that the British government will go ahead with a referendum on this very issue, progressively deciding the possibility and method of a U.K. exit from the E.U. and how much of an exit they really want to do. In short, UKIP won! Even though they didn't win hardly any seats in Parliament, their key issue was propelled forward because by taking up the banner for themselves, they forced the Conservative Party (Tories) to adopt the issue and make it their own.

The same can be done in America. It has been done in the past, and it can happen again. This is how we do it. We form small single-state parties, to run candidates in national elections just from our respective states, based on one or two key issues. These parties only need to garner 2%-3% of state voters to be successful, just enough to make the main party election close -- very close -- close enough to make one of the two major party candidates cut a deal with the small state party to secure that 2%-3% and gain a victory.

Let me use a hypothetical example. Let's take a state like Texas for example, which is really having a hard time with illegal immigration. Suppose Texas were to form a small state party called the 'Texas First Party' (TFP), that ran on the single issue of stopping illegal immigration. Then it ran a candidate for U.S. Senate and a few key U.S. House seats. Since this is a popular issue, it should garner at least 5% of the vote, if not more, most of those coming from the Republican side. Now tell me, what would the Republican candidates do to get that 5% (or more) back into their camp? I tell you they would do just about anything! Not only would they adopt that issue as their primary election issue, but there is almost no limit to the amount of deals they would cut with the TFP to bring that 5% back under their tent. Once that is done, the TFP performs poorly in the election, but the key issue is planted like a seed in the Republican Party candidate who won the election. He now knows he cannot win re-election unless he keeps TFP happy, along with his own party bosses. If this happens in enough states, it isn't long before the whole Republican Party makes this a top priority issue.

I call this method of politics 'seeding' because it's using the third-party election process to sow seeds into major parties, letting them sprout and grow in those major parties. Our state third-parties become just instruments to get this accomplished. They can be used, disposed of, and reused to serve this purpose. It's happened before in American politics, sort of by accident. I just propose we make it deliberate and purposeful now.



Shane Schaetzel is a published author and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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