Belfast Telegraph

Safe-seat MPs voted in by habit

By Bill White

Well, the campaign is now underway - officially. The parties and the media sell the election as though it's a fair contest, but those who understand election systems know it's far from fair; the first-past-the-post system sees to that.

Regardless of what you think of Ukip, this election is stacked against them.

Indeed, the first-past-the-post system is specifically designed for a two-party system and is geared to keep new, upcoming parties like Ukip out.

Ukip could end up polling 12%-16% of the national vote share (approximately 40% of what Labour and Conservative will probably poll) and yet they will end up with only a handful of seats.

It's sad to see the undecided voters - often first-time voters - being interviewed and hear them come out with lines like, "My vote is an important decision as we're deciding our PM".

I can tell a fair number of them not to bother, as their vote won't matter one iota.

Why is this? Because in up to 250 seats, it's the nomination that counts.

On the Conservative side, this usually means a clique of well-heeled locals, who will choose from a mysteriously constructed shortlist and will end up recommending one of their own to their local Conservative association.

Likewise, Labour nominations in their safe seats are often determined by a cabal of trade union members.

Why are these 250 or so seats safe for Labour or Conservative?

Because voting is habit-forming and these two big parties have been around a long, long time, building this habit into their core support bases.

This is a great asset to have and also applies in Northern Ireland, with Sinn Fein and the DUP having large core support bases.

Indeed, one of the key reasons that the UUP is still surviving is their reliance on their core support base, which is pretty solid, having been built up over many generations.

So, the candidates in these 250 safe seats in Great Britain are lucky - they needn't even bother to canvass.

All they have to do is turn up at the count and be declared the MP.

Bill White is managing director of Belfast polling and market research company LucidTalk, polling partners to the Belfast Telegraph

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