Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 8 June 2009

PR is not to blame for BNP Euro wins

Like many others this morning I am sickened by the fact that the BNP has won two seats in the European parliament following the count overnight. I had to endure the sight of fascists being interviewed on TV knowing they now have a 5 year elected platform from which to espouse their hate as well as all the funding that comes from the result.

I have already seen that William Hague has been on the radio this morning trying to argue that Proportional Representation is to blame for the result.

I completely reject that argument. The BNP has got in in Yorkshire and the North West because of a combination of disgust in general with the political classes and especially Labour. They got almost 10% of the vote in Yorkshire and 8% in the North West. The unpalatable fact is that a lot of people in those regions were willing to vote for them.

But the biggest argument against blaming the electoral system is that it is precisely the First Past the Post system used at Westminster that has contributed so much to this problem in the first place. Voters feel disengaged from politics and great swathes of the North West and Yorkshire are safe seats where there is usually little campaigning from any of the major parties as they instead focus their energies on marginal constituencies. This lack of political activity and engagement creates a vacuum that parties like the BNP can then move into. If we had a fairer electoral system for Westminster, these politically bereft areas would have much stronger campaigning machines on the ground from the major parties and the BNP would have been unlikely to get any MEPs as a result. I have heard anecdotal evidence that in some areas, the only leaflets people received were from the BNP. This is a shocking indictment of the lack of campaigning capacity of the bigger parties and is a direct result of the broken electoral system we use in our country for Westminster elections.

So if anything last night's results are an argument for wholesale reform of our electoral systems used in all elections.


Kalvis Jansons said...

What disturbs me most of all is that there are areas of the UK that would make such an extreme choice, even given the reasons you suggest.

Mark Wadsworth said...

What helps me sleep at night is the fact that racist parties (NF and BNP) have always simmered at around 5% of the vote and although they might peak at 10% every now and then, they will never get more than that because their main voter group is The White Underclass.

It's not so much a question of 'British jobs for British workers' as 'British benefits and social housing for British welfare claimants', which is easily fixed.

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree that Proportional representation could be part of the solution. I was present at the count ( see my account of this) of the Stafford Country Council seats, and saw that people had used their votes in a pretty random and irresponsible way, because they felt that it would not count. It was simply an expression of anger.

In the particular seat that I failed to help my councillor win, one of the candidates standing against him was a "paper candidate" fielded by the Lib Dems. He is a perfectly nice little man, who has had allegiences at different times to Labour, Green, Liberal democrats and local single issue groups.
He did not campaign, has no coherent ideas, and did not even come to the count, but the votes cast for him went a long way to unseating the very effective Labour Councillor who had held the marginal seat.

First past the post really encourages irresponsible voting.
A good PR system, backed by rigourous scrutiny of the candidates, and a responsible press ( now wouldn't that be nice!) would go a long way to giving us something rather less dangerous and volatile than what we now have.

What I am anticipating is that we will get a flood of really weird "independent" candidates at the general elaction.

This is a point at which it is likely that the three mainstream parties will feel pretty bitter and angry with each other. I think we have to get over that.

Part of the problem is that the electorate are staggeringly ignorant about the issues. I meet this every time I am on the doorstep. You are quite right that there are not nearly enough people out there doing it, and the current climate of ridiculing good and decent politicians does nothing to help in this. The best endeavours I have to lay out the facts as clearly as possible in my MPs website are pretty powerless against the constant barrage of misreporting and underreporting in the press.

The public are also sick to death of parties scoring points off each other. I think that anyone who can be seen as part of the rational middle ground needs to find a way of working together to present arguements clearly and where it is possible working towards agreement.

Matthew Huntbach said...


People expect there to be candidates from all the main parties. If there aren't, they ask why. They look at you blankly if you explain it's because no-one volunteered to do it, they didn't think politics worked like that. That's why you had your "nice little man". One of the advantages of STV is that we wouldn't feel so obliged to have so many candidates and be scratching around so much to get them. I don't know whether your assessment of the man is really fair, but if it is, I don't think the LibDems are the only ones who sometimes have to put in clueless people in contest they can't win at least to have a name on the ballot paper.

As for you "effective" Labour councillor, how far did s/he really go to keep his/her votes? Regular newsletter to all constituents - NOT paid for by council funds? That's what I did when I was a councillor and so won my seat when it wasn't a natural for my party. Or did that councillor rely a bit too much on people who say "I'm voting Labour because I always do"? There were quite a few of those around until recently. There were a great many Labour councillors who got elected only because of them. I'm afraid it's a bit of a cheek for them now to be complaining that they are getting turned out only because they have a Labour label.

Richard T said...

I disregard the opposition to PR systems from Tories and Labour stalinists as being self serving. The arguments don't really need being further reheard here.

On the specific point, I do not see the use of the European parliament elections as an argument against PR as being valid largely because I think that folk do not see the European elections as being 'real' and hence they do not necessarily vote as they would in a UK election. Compare the voting in the English County Councils with that for the European Parliament and the significant differences in UKIP and BNP votes makes my point.

There is however a basic point of democracy here. Do you maintain a voting system that does not allow all points of view to participate with a prospect of success, however distasteful? Surely this allows the alienation, which such views generally represent, to feed on itself and to fester. I'm reasonably sure the election of Richard Barnbrook to the GLA has done more to destroy the image of the BNP as a real party than suppressing the capacity to elect folk such as him.

Mark Thompson said...

Thanks for all your comments.

I was in a rush this morning so did not have time to expand on this but I agree that STV would be the much better way to go and the BNP would really struggle to get any candidates elected.

However I also agree with the comment that says the way to defeat extremists is not to engineer an electoral system designed to keep them out but to have a fair electoral system and defeat them at the ballot box on the issues. I agree with Iain Dale's comments today about why he interviewed the BNP member on his show on Friday.