The web has been abuzz lately with reports that the Liberal Democrats have jumped into either first or second place in U.K. polls for the upcoming Parliamentary elections. Now, for a third-party person like myself in the U.S. this is interesting because:
1. The U.K. also has plurality, first-past-the-post elections, like the U.S.
2. The Liberal Democrats have only surged recently because their spokesperson, Nick Clegg, was invited to a debate with David Cameron, the Conservative leader, and Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister.
3. The Lib Dems have a possibility of winning the plurality of the vote and also the fewest amount of seats – highlighting the need for electoral reform in the U.K. Lib Dems have been calling for proportional representation in Britain since the mid-80s.
Now this may be a hopeful sign for we third-party activists in the U.S. who have been demanding electoral reform for decades: to see the country that gave us the first-past-the-post system potentially eliminate it. Let’s remember, though, that the U.K.’s ballot access laws are far simpler and fairer for candidates of all parties, unlike the United States. U.K. candidates are guaranteed a share of public airtime for their candidates, and they are allowed a certain amount of free national mailings to all voters. Lib Dems are also an old party in the U.K. – formed from the remnants of Gladstone’s 19th century Liberal Party and the U.K. Social Democrats (a splinter from the Labour Party) in the 1980s.
Still, it shows that with inclusion of candidates in major-party debates, fairer ballot-access laws, and media coverage, other parties have a shot at winning an election. I would be remiss in my coverage if I didn’t also give a shout-out to the Green Party of the U.K., which is running its own candidates in this election (but unfortunately not being covered by the media there).