With only five weeks to go until the AV Referendum, Yes2AV have unveiled their secret weapon: Baroness Warsi.
Warsi is the chair of the Conservative Party, and judging by her recent comments she is a Yes2Av double agent masquerading as a patron of the No2AV campaign:
Speaking in London’s East End, near where anti-fascists fought a march by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in 1936, Lady Warsi argued that a switch to AV would bring “a real risk that candidates would pander to extremists”, with “more inflammatory campaigns, and more policies which appeal to people’s worst instincts rather that to the values of the mainstream”.
Supporters of AV were “backing a system which rewards extremism and gives oxygen to extremist groups”, she claimed. It could also give parties like the BNP more legitimacy and “more power to those people – fringe voters, Monster Raving Loonies, and yes, fascists – who are voting for precisely the kind of extreme policies most people want to marginalise”. Lady Warsi added: “It means that bigots will be given more power in our politics and extremists will look to gain more influence over mainstream parties.”
Anyone would think that under our current system no parties pander to the BNP whatsoever. If only that were true. As Immigration Minister, Devil Incarnate and unofficial nemesis of Paperback Rioter Phil Woolas pandered to the far-right on an almost daily basis. And does anyone remember “British Jobs for British Workers”? It’s not as if Warsi herself is immune from this treatment: she said in an interview back in 2007 that people voting BNP had “legitimate concerns”. I can’t see AV making this situation any worse.
If this were a debate over a proportional system, such as STV or AV+, then there would be a chance that BNP MPs would be elected and sit in the House of Commons. If that were the debate we were having, then the following points could be made:
a) If people vote for fascists, than fascists have the right to sit in Parliament. That’s the point of democracy, after all.
b) The BNP’s views are repugnant, but as I’ve argued before the best way to challenge the BNP is to defeat their arguments in open debate and not to shirk from the challenge.
However, that is not the debate and AV is not a proportional system. It’s a system of electing MPs to a constituency. And it would make the prospect of a BNP MP much more unlikely because of the need for MPs to reach a threshold of 50% +1 of votes.
Take a look at this House of Commons briefing note on the BNP. The three BNP councillors elected for the first time in Burnley in 2002 had an average vote share of 28.1%. This means that 71.9% of voters voted against these councillors, yet they were still elected. If you look at the vote share of BNP councillors elected in 2008 (p7), you’ll see that only one of the fifteen candidates was elected with more than 40% of the vote, and one, in Maltby, was elected with just 23.1% of the vote.
Under AV the only way the BNP could have won these elections is to have picked up a sizable number of second preference votes. This is extremely unlikely, because, to quote this excellent guide to AV, “generally voters either support a party like the BNP, or hate it, so such parties gain very few second and third preferences.”
We do actually have some data on second preference votes for the BNP, for the London Assembly elections in 2008. You can find it on p8 of the House of Commons briefing notes. By my calculations, across the fourteen constituencies we have data for, an average of 4.93% of voters put the BNP down as a second preference. This would have been insufficient to win any of the council seats I mentioned above, even in seats where they polled 40% of votes in the first round.
Warsi is therefore plain wrong. AV would not help the BNP: if anything it would make them almost impossible to win any seats. Indeed, that’s why the BNP are supporting the No campaign.
There is another strand to Warsi’s criticism, about whether AV would give more influence to voters of extremist parties, but I will address that in a later blog post.