How do you vote for a protest party?

Houses of Parliament
Image caption The fixed parliamentary term means there's less incentive to vote to bring the government down

It used to be a favourite at the ballot box - a protest vote. Stuff the lot of them!

And the protest vote was often popular mid-term, when a government was losing its shine, starting to miss policy targets, with the sticky mud of sleaze slowing progress. It was a chance to leave loyalty aside and send a message to those in charge.

But we know exactly when this current government is due to end. The coalition's time is up on 7th May 2015.

So part of the incentive to express dissatisfaction in the local or European elections is gone. A protest vote will not hasten the government's demise. There is no chance that by stirring disloyalty to the leader, or embarrassing the party donors the game will be up and the ruling party (or parties) will fall.

That might re-assure David Cameron. And whilst rebellious backbenchers have to bide their time, the economy can continue to improve. And both coalition parties are bound in to the timetable.

None of the above

The Liberal Democrats used to do very well out of the protest racket. But launching his local election push leader Nick Clegg declared: "The local elections are different for us now, the Euros too. Bluntly, we are not the protest vote any more.

"But I have never wanted the Liberal Democrats to be just the 'none of the above' party."

He points the finger at UKIP, saying it's the new angry mob, with an aim to "stoke up people's anger, offering up fake solutions and dangerous fantasies".

Image caption The 2011 Act of Parliament

Contemptuous

Nigel Farage has always angrily rejected the idea his party relies on a reaction to the existing government to win votes.

"The protest vote is something you do once," he told me on his visit to Portsmouth.

"But look at Eastleigh. Everyone said jolly well done, Nigel, but it's just a protest vote. Well, blow me down look at what then happened in the county council elections. In Eastleigh we won three seats."

"If you ask people why they're voting for UKIP yes it's true they feel pretty contemptuous of three political parties who've done things without asking their permission, but it's more than that. They agree with what we stand for."

So what about Labour? Surely the opposition should be the natural home of the protestor, the rebel?

Broken Promises

Harriet Harman slammed the Liberal Democrat appeal to be the party of responsibility saying: "The Lib Dems are a party of broken promises.

"Nick Clegg says they're different from the Tories, but the truth is they've backed David Cameron all the way... not a constraint on the Tories - they are their willing helpers."

But Labour has not been able to lead protests against cuts and the austerity agenda, because it knows it needs to win the public's trust on finances too.

In the European elections, proportional representation gives the Green Party the chance to win a genuine voice in Brussels.

Otherwise only those without real prospect of power can offer a protest vote - Socialist, even English Democrat or National Health Action are keen to offer themselves as a risk-free way to take a pop at the establishment.

But for the General Election - on Thursday, 7 May 2015 - there is no longer a need for an opposition to gain momentum.

No chance for protest on the streets to pressure MPs into a vote of confidence that could bring down the government.

It's not that people aren't angry. Just that their anger can't be directed at a particular aim.