Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Electoral system distortions lets BNP in

There is an interesting article from Hugh Muir in The Guardian today. In a piece entitled "Who opened the door to the BNP?" he says that in their pursuit of winnable seats, Labour and the Tories left a vacuum that the BNP has gladly filled with its county council seats in Lancashire, Leicestershire and a strong showing in Essex.

The whole article is worth a read but this section in particular stood out for me when he addresses the question of why the vacuum is there:

But why was there a vacuum? Because Labour failed and, largely speaking, the Tories were no better. They too were chasing the middle class vote and the marginals and they were not about to worry themselves about areas they regarded as Labour fiefdoms, even those that had become failed states. They concentrated on the winnable seats. There is a logic to it. But the result of the decision by both parties to practise politics as the route to election victory rather as a tool for representing the broadest possible spread of communities left the door wide open for Griffin and his snake-oil salesmen.

Hugh is spot on here.. Our rotten electoral system allows one party fiefdom's to build up which are then neglected and allow parties like the BNP to sneak in by the back door.

Remember this the next time an opponent of electoral reform tries the old canard that a proportional system would let extreme parties in. As I have said time and again, Single Transferable Vote would make it almost impossible for the BNP to get in as voters can list their candidates in order of preference (and stop when they have put numbers against all they favour) so the BNP would not have any numbers next to them at all on most ballot papers. STV means candidates have to have broad support before they can get elected.


Hywel said...

"STV means candidates have to have broad support before they can get elected."

This is fundamentally incorrect. STV's strength is that it allows minority views to be represented. It's true that extreme parties don't do well out of transfers (see the DUP and Sinn Fein in NI) but if you can get enough first prefs you don't need transfers.

ERS produced a very good paper on the effect of STV compared with FPTP in Burnley.

IIRC their conclusions were that STV would make it easier for the BNP to win initial seats, but harder to expand beyond a certain level.

In Burnley the BNP polled around 15% - so 1/6 seats is about proportional.

neil craig said...

Obviously the same "distortions" would work for the LibDems but since the Guardian is as much of a racist, criminal, genocide supporting organsiation as the LibDems "distrotions" in their case are not a bad thing.

Mark Thompson said...


I suppose I was not very clear. If a candidate gets 16% of the vote in a 6 member constituency then there is not really any fair system that would prevent them from getting in. That is broad support in my book but I agree I did not clarify this. The argument then is to make sure that we campaign against them strongly enough to make sure that does not happen.

The argument I was trying to counter is the one that opponents of PR sometimes try on which is that if the BNP gets 1% of the vote across the country then under a PR system they would get 6 or 7 seats in parliament. That is just not true under STV as they would need to win a seat in a multi member constituency where there were maybe 4 or 5 seats available. Therefore they would need at least 20% of the votes from either first or other preferences transferred. Realistically that is very unlikely to happen.

Hywel said...

Ah - now I follow

"Broad support" is a pretty vague term I suppose :-)

The ERS paper is well worth a read if you've not cast your eye over it yet.

Voter said...

I find it hard to understand the Lib Dem position.

Mr Clegg argues for a new system in the name of fairness and then you say that an advantage of the solution proposed by the party is that it is unfair, namely to the BNP.

Mark Thompson said...

Voter, the system being discussed here is the First Past the Post system for electing councillors and MPs.

The fact that in some areas parties are so weak because the FPTP system makes it very difficult for them to get elected means that parties like the BNP can move in to try and fill the vacuum.

What the Lib Dems advocate is STV (Single Transferable Vote) which would make things much fairer and proportional but would make it hard for extremist parties to get in (although not impossible - no system can do that).

Voter said...

Yes, I am aware that the Lib Dems favour STV.

My point was about fairness.

How can the Lib Dems advocate a system on the grounds of fairness when the system they put forward is actually not fair and this is claimed to be an advantage!

If you believe in fairness, then put forward a fair system, not one rigged against certain parties.

Mark Thompson said...

From my perspective STV is the best or rather least worst system available. There are no perfect systems but I am convinced that STV is the most fair with the least drawbacks.

Its biggest advantage is in the power it gives to the voters and takes away from the party machines. This is why the big parties don't like it.

Voter said...

I think a more proportional system (I advocate weighted STV) would be good.

Why should the Green party be denied proportional representation merely to keep the BNP out of Parliament?

I agree that it is desirable to keep them out of power but with their limited support and the general distate for them, a proportional system would achieve that I think