Patrick Mercer resigns (Party Systems!!)

The investigation into Patrick Mercer will not come as a surprise to many of my students – if you cast your mind back to studying Pressure Groups, we watched a Panorama documentary in which he was filmed agreeing to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Fiji to rejoin the Commonwealth – i.e. lobbying. (Original blog –

Following this investigation by the Standards Committee in Parliament, Mercer was last night suspended from the HoC for six months, and resigned shortly afterwards. The internet is abound with political analysis of the implication for UKIP of this, but there are additional significances for your examinations.

Firstly, it is a good example of accountability. Patrick Mercer referred himself to the Standards Committee, which is a ‘new’ committee as of 2013 (it is really a re-branding of a 1995 committee, but the alterations in 2013 could be used to show the modernisation of Parliament in recent years).

Also, since the Panorama documentary, Mercer has ‘resigned the party whip’ – essentially resigning as a Tory MP and standing as an independent MP since May 2013. When discussing the power (or not) of whips and parties, therefore, this could be a useful example.

With regard to UKIP: at the moment it is being reported that Farage is considering standing as a candidate for this Newark seat, and lot of commentators have suggested that they stand a chance of gaining a reasonable swing of the vote at least. However UKIP need a 25% swing to win the seat, Labour need roughly 16%. This could be useful in an exam to demonstrate that perhaps the UK is no longer a two party system (Con/Lab) or a two-and-a-half party system (Con/Lab and Lib) but a multi-party system.

In order to gain marks for this in an exam, you MUST understand what a party system is – it is NOT a choice! Party systems are the outcome of choosing a particular electoral system. For example, in FPTP, because only a simple plurality is need, the outcome is often a two-party system, whereas in AMS where the vote is more proportional the outcome is often a multi-party system (not the word ‘often, not ‘always’). The ‘party system’ refers not to the number of parties running in that election, but the number of parties with a viable chance of forming government. On this basis, think carefully before saying that the rise of UKIP now makes the UK a multi-party system – do they have a viable chance of forming government?

Finally, it is a useful example of the flaws of FPTP, hypothetically at least. With Labour needing a 16% swing, if UKIP were to cream off some of the current Tory voters in Newark, then this may allow Labour in ‘through the back door’. This is splitting the vote – where, in this instance, right wing voters (although the majority) split their vote between two parties reducing the number each party gets, allowing the left wing to gain a plurality and take the seat despite being a minority in terms of ideology. We are more used to seeing this previously where Liberal Democrats and Labour have divided the left wing vote and allowed Tories in ‘through the back door’. However all of this is only possible as FPTP does not require the winner to have a majority (50%+1) but a plurality (more than the next guy).

Lots to think about and lots relevant here for Unit 1 (electoral systems, pressure groups) and Unit 2 (Parliament).

UPDATE: Nigel Farage will NOT stand in the by-election created by Patrick Mercer resigning. You can still use everything above for your exams! (