Third Parties – is it worth voting for them?

Person dropping paper into a ballot box
Hope Gallagher

In recent months there has been a greater focus around third parties, or minority parties. A third party is simply one which does not belong to either of the main two. These parties can vary significantly in terms of ideology, representation and in some ways in how serious they are about the political scene; ranging from the SNP (with 43 seats in the current parliament) to the Monster Raving Looney Party (0 seats). Representation can vary across levels of government; from the national parliaments, regional assemblies to local councils. Certain parties, including third parties, may gain greater support from the public across different levels of government compared to others. However, as we see members of the main parties defecting the minority parties (Lee Anderson’s move from the Conservative’s to Reform UK) and minority parties now winning in by-elections (George Galloway’s win for the Worker’s Party of Britain) they are once again gaining relevance. In the year of a general election, it is important to ask; is it worth voting for third parties? 

The biggest argument against voting for third parties, particularly in general elections, is that they can be classed as a ‘wasted vote’. This is primarily because of the voting system First Past the Post (FPTP), a system where the candidate who gets the most votes in one single constituency is elected. FPTP benefits majority parties such as the Labour Party and the Conservative Party, as these parties need a majority and it is often the case third parties simply cannot rival that amount of support. Parties, for example may have 12% of the vote across the population and yet end up with no seats in Parliament if their support is not concentrated in the correct area. This means that 12% of votes cast in this hypothetical election were wasted. 

This was clear when in 2019 nearly 900,000 people voted for the Green Party, only to see one MP win a seat. In fact, in that same year, in seven different constituencies, 90% of votes were ignored as they were cast for other parties and the vote was too split. Often, it is seen that these smaller parties do little more than split the vote of the major parties. It can be said that parties who cater to similar voters are simply giving opposition parties a better chance of gaining office. This was something the Brexit Party realised in the 2019 General Election, when they decided to stand down from running in Tory seats in order to not contest the Conservative vote by splitting the leave support and turning it in favour of Labour.

Most parties see themselves improve on local stages, challenging the two main parties.

One major occasion the public are more likely to vote for third parties and where votes do not seem to be wasted is during regional elections such as for local council, or those relating to devolved powers such as the Welsh assembly. In particular, parties that are nationalist in nature tend to do well in national assembly elections. For example in the 2021 Welsh Assembly election Plaid Cymru saw itself holding 13 seats, whereas in the British Parliament they only hold 3. The exception to this rule is seemingly the SNP, who in post-Brexit years have seen their voices strengthened and their numbers increasing in the British Parliament. However, most parties see themselves improve on local stages, challenging the two main parties.

Of course, it can be said that this may be down to the failures of the main two parties to capture voters and perform the way they wish, however it is unlikely this success will be represented on such a scale in the next general election. People often feel comfortable rebelling in these local elections, seeing it as a chance to send a message to the government that they are not delivering. In the case of the Green Party, who saw major success in the 2023 local elections, they ‘campaigned hard on local issues’ and are delivering in those areas. They are seeing their policies win on local issues and are seen as parties delivering on local issues, whereas are not trusted with larger national and foreign policy.

It gives a chance for opposition of the government to make a real difference

Third parties have only ever held official office power, in the UK at least, in coalition governments. This was notably during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition of 2010. Whilst the DUP also had influence in May’s 2017 government, the supply and demand deal was not quite as significant as a coalition. However, this gave third parties a voice within central government that they did not have before. It gives a chance for opposition of the government to make a real difference, as the passing of a motion can be dependent on the support of these third parties. Throughout their time in office the Liberal Democrats were able to implement much of their manifesto into government policy, whilst they had to give up many of their core aims, this would not have been possible without their time in coalition.

However, the DUP’s supply and demand deal proved to cause political deadlock and indecision. Their influence in power caused deadlock over May’s 2017 Brexit Deal and put government proceedings to a halt for a significant amount of time. This meant much of the Brexit dealings ground to a halt and caused significant problems in government. Whilst this is arguably a positive, that the DUP were able to cause such disruption, it can be seen as a negative for main governments that they can create such deadlock.

Could this finally be the year both parties are called to account for their failings?

The nuance around the arguments both for and against voting for third party’s are extensive and are something that I am sure will be greatly analysed this year. Could this year be the year people decide third parties are, in fact, worth voting for and see the tide change against these mainstream parties who are being called out on their increasing failures to serve the people’s country? Could this finally be the year both parties are called to account for their failings? Or will it simply be another year where occasional seats deviate from the traditional blue or red, with the dominance of the main parties remaining?

Hope Gallagher

Featured image courtesy of Element5 Digital via Pexels Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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