Declining party membership, financial problems, new (cheaper) media and lack of distinctive policies all threaten the dominance of the established parties. Protest votes have largely deserted the Liberal Democrats now that they are in government. Newer parties such as UKIP and Respect have been picking up protest votes, but there are already signs that these newer recipients of the protest votes are themselves unstable and liable to fragment (see my post for 23 October).
How can any of this be good news for democracy?
The quality and quantity of candidates may (I only say ‘may’) improve. Good candidates, who would not want to stand under a party label, may be attracted to put themselves forward for election as independents, if they see other independents being elected.
Voters may be less likely to see contests as foregone conclusions and be tempted to vote for independent candidates. More genuine competition for seats may improve democracy. The fragmentation of power may also result in parties and individuals learning to work together across party boundaries. This may ultimately be good news for democracy, if not for the political parties.