Monthly Archives: June 2009

Bercow and burying bad news

It is quite telling that on Monday the Tories opted to a) announce the membership of their new Euro grouping and b) announce the resignation of Ian Clements. Burying bad news? I should coco! At least James Cleverly has the decency to admit it, however obliquely.

There isn’t much more I can say about the Euro grouping that hasn’t already been said elsewhere. Suffice to say, the fact that they could only muster two other parties with more than one MEP to join is all too telling.

I know the Tories like to bang on about how the other European Parties have their fair share of oddballs (I’ve never had the names of the guilty ALDES parties mentioned but no doubt someone can point me to them), but this is a grouping of ALL oddballs. Forming a grouping like this is to make a statement and the statement I hear from this is that the Tories do not consider environmental issues or gay rights anything close to a priority.

The Ian Clements incident is gobsmacking. Boris hasn’t been any better than Ken in terms of appointing his own cronies. The difference is, Ken’s ones tended to be more honest – or somewhat smarter at least.

Meanwhile, the Tory reaction to Bercow’s election is one of the least gracious spectacles I’ve seen in a long time. This, let us not forget, is from people who were complaining at how Michael Martin had politicised the role.

The objection to John Bercow from the Tories is not that he is a swivel-eyed racist, but that he isn’t one any more. An odd statement to broadcast to the nation. Dan Finkelstein rightly gives his team a good ticking off. Praise is also due to Douglas Carswell who was one of the first voices of calm this morning. Not only that, but he admitted to voting for Bercow himself (thereby scotching Nadine Dorries’ theory that only two other Tories voted for JB), and voted for my own first choice Richard Shepherd (you see, I love Tories really).

As for the result itself, personally I would have been happy with either Bercow or Young. I’m delighted the speculation surrounding Margaret Beckett’s shoo-in proved to be utter nonsense. I suspect that the hostility shown towards Bercow has been whipped up by a bunch of headbangers in the party and will dissipate fairly quickly. It is certainly the case that nothing like all of the Labour Party voted for Bercow – given that it seems most Lib Dems did a sizeable chunk of Labour MPs must have shored up Young’s vote.

I do wonder however if the electoral system they have used is the best one for letting a “consensus” candidate emerge. The downside of an exhaustive ballot/AV procedure is that it doesn’t always help build consensus. In this case, with one candidate clearly despised by a minority (how large that minority is remains an unknown quantity), it just looks like majoritarianism.

How different would it have been if they had used Modified Borda Count, where lower preferences would have been counted, or Majority Judgement? With both these systems, being despised by the minority would have counted against Bercow (this assumes that most Bercow voters would have minded Young winning less than the other way around). Enough to affect the outcome? I couldn’t say, but it certainly would have narrowed it.

The bottom line is that while we have a system which tends to ensure that a single party has a majority in the Commons, it is that majority that will get to pick the speaker. The convention of picking an opposition party speaker went out of the window in 2000. A system that at least softens the harder effects of that brute fact is at least worth considering.

Will Labour “split” in speaker ballot?

The answer to that question is: no.

Why? Because after the last debacle, in which Martin rose to power, the Commons decided to move into the 20th century (the 21st being too much of a leap) and adopt an exhaustive ballot system. That means that unless a candidate gets elected in the first round with 50% of the vote, there will be a series of ballots until one does.

It’s a bit like the Alternative Vote system except, this being the House of Commons, they have to turn it into the procedural equivalent of the Hokey Cokey and do it by physically walking in and out of the division lobby instead of simply writing their preferences down on a simple ballot paper.

So at the same time as dismissing electoral reform for the rest of us, the Commons is not above a bit of electoral reform itself. I might not like AV for electing Parliament, but for electing a single post like this it is a no-brainer.

What all this means is that the speculation in pieces like this one in the Times is frankly bogus. Even if the Labour vote does split enough to put Sir George Young in first place in the first round, the Labour bloc is likely to have its own way in the longer run.

Personally speaking, I am a bit torn. I’ve always liked and respected Richard Shepherd’s quiet crusade for parliamentary reform and I can see the attractions of John Bercow. Alan Beith would be perfectly respectable. Sir George Young, in parliamentary terms, is a radical reformer. But he is also too much of an insider for my liking and I haven’t liked his stance on the expenses issue. Beckett, in my view, would be an utter disaster – no coincidence then that the Labour whips are hard at work to get her installed.

If Labour continues to be dominated by a bunch of self-serving venal toadies who have learned nothing over the past couple of months then Beckett is a shoe-in. Is it cynical of me therefore to be tempted to put a fiver on her?

Iain Dale calls Lib Dem candidate a “whore”

Iain Dale has taken the unusual decision to take Lib Dem candidate for Norwich North April Pond to task for putting herself forward after already being the candidate for Broadland constituency.

He likens this to him abandoning Norfolk North constituency in the run up to the 2005 General Election to fight a by-election in Tunbridge Wells, and accuses her of “whoring herself across Norfolk.”

The 'old' Norwich North ConstituencyThe 'new' Broadland ConstituencyAside from the blatant misogyny, there is just one other flaw in this argument: Broadland – being a new constituency to be created at the next General Election – encapsulates part of Norwich North constituency which is about to be abolished. You can see how by comparing the above images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Is this sort of sexist talk and blatant disinformation spreading really the sort of thing we should tolerate in political discourse? It looks as if Iain is auditioning to be David Cameron’s own Damien McBride.

Cheap. And talking of cheap shots, do you think we should explain to him that Tunbridge Wells isn’t in Norfolk?

Hat tip: Liberal England

Terminator: Salvation – Some things I need to get off my chest (SPOILERS)

I saw Terminator Salvation on Saturday. What can I say? I had time to kill. Anyway, here are a few things I really need to get off my chest. Don’t read anything else if you’re planning to watch this pile of poo:

  • If you are about to coordinate an assault on the enemy, don’t blab the plans out on unscrambled longwave radio.
  • If SkyNet is so great at taking normal human beings and turning them into Terminators, why spend all that time and energy building hoofing great big Terminators that all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger? As an infiltration device, Marcus Wright is a much better tool than Arnie will ever be. He’s a better actor, for one thing.
  • Why, in 2018, does SkyNet give a flying monkey’s about either John Connor or Kyle Reese? How does it know that Connor is going to become a great leader at that stage? How does it know that Kyle Reese is going to be his father?
  • Why are those Terminator bike things designed so that humans can ride them?
  • Why, if Connor clearly has this messiah thing going on, do the resistance keep him on the front line? And how does this messiah thing start in the first place – does he go around bragging about being the future leader of mankind?
  • Why does SkyNet – a computer – feel the need to explain all its plans in detail to Marcus Wright? Why does Marcus get repaired? Why is he allowed to escape? Why not just wipe his memory?
  • Why, at the end of the film, does Kate Brewster cold bloodedly kill Marcus Wright by removing his heart and giving it to John Connor? In what way is that ethically defensible? How does she even know it will be compatible? Since when can vets perform open heart surgery on humans anyway?

There was at least one other major plot hole that really annoyed me but thankfully it is all starting to fade.

UPDATE: Slow on the uptake I know but it has just occurred to me: why does Marcus Wright need a heart anyway? All his other organs have been replaced by machinery so why does he need a circulation system and why does he die (albeit temporarily) when the T-800 punches his heart?

BNP voters come in two flavours: scum and idiots

The one thing that has been worse than the BNP winning two seats in the European Parliament today has been the endless hand-wringing and excuses made on behalf of the electorate by mainstream politicians. Last night, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour were queueing up to come up with excuses for why so many people voted BNP. It was a protest vote, they said, not a racist one. We need to listen more and learn to respond.

Bollocks. The time for a touchy-feely understanding of BNP voters is well and truly over. You could make this excuse in 2001 when the BNP vote first started to flare up in earnest (three months before 9/11 please note – remember Griffin’s ridiculous gag at the Oldham count?) but now is the time to – as Lewis Baston says (pace John Major) – “condemn a little more, understand a little less.”

If you wanted to make a protest vote on Thursday, it isn’t as if you didn’t have a wide choice. What seems to have emerged in recent years is that voters seem to have learned that voting BNP is the best way to get a reaction out of the mainstream parties. It is a form of dirty protest; the difference being that the voters are all supposedly over 18, not toddlers. And yet, like the most awful parents ever seen on Supernanny, the mainstream parties seem to fall for it every time.

Enough is enough. This has started to look like Weimar-era appeasement (note: Godwin’s law doesn’t apply when you are writing about actual neo-Nazis). Politicians have treated the electorate like children for years; we can hardly be surprised therefore that a small minority have now started acting like children. There isn’t a particular policy solution – we can hardly starve the North West and Yorkshire of resources to punish a mere 8% of voters – but we can change the language. We could start hearing mainstream political leaders openly criticise BNP voters rather than merely the party itself. Call them out; take them to task; challenge them. Make it clear that while they can ultimately vote for whoever they want in a democracy, we do not respect their decision.

Does all this sound patronising? Maybe, but then is it really more so than the self-flagelating alternative? No, not every BNP voter is a racist but at the very very best they are in deep denial about racism. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a party which claims to not be racist yet bangs on about the indigenous white race and “racial foreigners” is simply engaging in doublespeak.

BNP literature is full of hate, spite, resentment and scapegoating. It offers simplistic, washing-powder-advert solutions to complex problems. You only vote for such things if you are already predisposed to lash out rather than really look for solutions. In that respect, I think the tone of the Hope Not Hate campaign is spot on; I just don’t see it reinforced by mainstream politicians (let alone the blundering antics of the far-left).

An extremely bad approach is the one adopted by Ian Dunt over on Apparently “there is a tiny fascist in all of us” – to the extent that nobody’s perfect, I suppose that may be true. But where does that get us? I didn’t vote BNP. Most people didn’t vote BNP. Why should we beat ourselves up about it? What will that achieve? Will our mutual hand-wringing suddenly make BNP voters see the error of their ways? I forget who came up with the idea of the “Oh Dear” factor in climate change policy – that being that the problem with talking about how dreadful climate change is that people feel disempowered and thus disengage from the whole debate. Why would we want to elevate something as eminently resolvable as the fact that minority of people vote for neo-Nazis to the same level?

I’ve helped organise several political events for schools over the years, and in particular question time debates in which a panel of MPs are asked questions by a horde of hormone-addled, smart-alec teenagers. In my experience such debates follow the following pattern: the politicians come on stage and mouth a load of platitudes about how important it is that young people get involved in politics; a series of kids ask clever-clever questions designed to “prove” that all politicians are self-serving liars; the baying mob scents blood and the politicos suddenly realise that they can’t get out of this by simply sticking to the script. At that point, something truly wonderful typically happens. At least one politician gets annoyed at their antagonists and starts to tell it like it is; explaining that the kids who are both pro-war and anti-war, both green and climate-change sceptic and both anti-racism and anti-immigration simply cannot have it both ways. Suddenly both baying mob and platitude-spouting politico connects in a way neither were expecting. The atmosphere changes completely. I’ve seen this happen on numerous occasions and the lesson for me is clear: you don’t connect with the disaffected by telling them what you think they want to hear. You can only connect by being authentic and frank with them – even disagreeing with them and challenging their prejudices.

Ultimately, there are just two types of BNP voter: scum and idiots. The scum we can comfortably leave to one side. The rest need to stop being told that their idiocy is some cunning act of tactical protest; they’ve started to believe it now. Idiocy is an eminently curable disorder, but the first step to stop being an idiot is to realise what you’re being. With that in mind, indulging BNP voters is an form of cruel and inhumane treatment.

This blog doesn’t make polling predictions, but if it did…

…they’d be pretty sucky. My roundup of polls on Wednesday turned out to be pretty flaky. I’d like to use the excuse that I was only reporting them, not endorsing them, but that’s for the birds.

First of all, turnout: Mat B correctly predicted that YouGov were probably over-estimating and he was spot on. This raises an interesting question: how can YouGov be so right on the polling figures themselves (Anthony Wells has hailed them as the closest pollsters) and yet so wrong on this statistic?

Secondly, the state of the parties in the North West. Here I’m on safer ground as I really wasn’t making a prediction and I didn’t turn out to be that wrong anyway. The Greens were quite close to beating the BNP (although technically, the “tactical” vote was to vote UKIP as they came closest to denying Griffin – the Green tactical vote message was indeed bogus as predicted by almost everyone) and the blanket media coverage of the latter compared with fact that the former were ignored was almost certainly a factor.

Does the European election result vindicate PR as I suggested? Yes it does. I’ve yet to see a council-by-council breakdown of the figures but it will almost certainly show pockets where the BNP were strong and which, under FPTP, they would have been able to target with impunity. They’ve got where they are today through their electoral success in local authorities around the country using the FPTP system to their advantage. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that if we didn’t have PR we wouldn’t now have BNP MEPs.

At the same time, it is incumbant on me to point out that if the election had been run under the STV system, the BNP probably would have been denied. 263,000 votes in the North West didn’t go to any winning candidate which would potentially have been counted if the voters had been able to rank candidates in order of preference. With the exception of the English Democrat voters, the majority of them would have gone to pretty much anyone but the BNP. And with less than one-ninth of the vote, the BNP would have needed those transfers to win. This is one of the great features of STV: it is anti-extremist but works by including more people into the process rather than less.

Regardless, it is clear that the public (at least the ones who voted) are starting to enjoy the flexibility that PR gives them. Almost exactly 2 in every 5 voters supported a party which is not represented in the House of Commons. It would be nice if in 2014 we didn’t have quite so many vanity projects running at once (Jury Team, Libertas, the Socialist Labour Party, NO2EU and the Christian Party all seemed to be living examples of what happens when you mix excessive quantities of self-importance and money together) but fundamentally there is no going back to bad old days of zero choice and foregone conclusions in European elections. What’s more, the appetite for genuinely competitive elections can only increase.

Ironically, the biggest losers in this election would have been Labour if it had been fought under FPTP. They’d have been wiped out (more precisely, their last vestiges would have been eliminated following their disastrous 2004 result). The Tories meanwhile would have won a massive majority of the seats despite only enjoying the support of 1-in-4 voters. That ought to chill any true democrat to the bone.

And what about the Liberal Democrats? Well, we did pretty indifferently. On the ground the party seemed to hold its own in target Westminster seats and ignore everywhere else. This is probably fair enough. What was missing was anything like a decent air war to rally our support in the rest of the country.

The party’s internet operation was stronger than in the past and the mealy-mouthed, look-both-ways stuff about Europe seemed to be less in evidence than during the past two elections. But the campaign was not wildly pro-Europe and failed to frame the debate in any way to our advantage. Much of that couldn’t be helped because of the tsunami that was the expenses scandal; we’ll never know how the campaign would have been different if that hadn’t got in the way. But there does seem little to suggest that Clegg was preparing to articulate a clear, provocative message about the Lib Dems’ attitude towards Europe in the way that he has been very good at doing of late (e.g. his position on the recall of MPs and expenses reform).

Some argued that what the party should have done is come out all guns blazing in calling for the UK to adopt the Euro as soon as possible. I’m a little ambivalent about the Euro (I’m not anti the Euro per se but I was sceptical of unbridled monetarism before it was fashionable and wonder how big the EU budget would have to be to ensure the Euro doesn’t unduly disadvantage whole swathes of its regions), but I can at least see the logic behind it. A core 30% of the UK population is consistently pro-EU and yet no party will engage with them for fear of alienating the other 70% who are either anti or (mostly) utterly indifferent. FPTP makes it difficult for us to engage with this constituency; PR makes it crucial if we are ever to break through this glass ceiling that we seem to be bouncing against.

Fundamentally, if no-one else is prepared to talk up the EU we are truly doomed. The UK cannot afford to leave the EU yet seems to be slowly arguing itself into a corner. Sooner or later this is going to come to a crunch; the quicker the Lib Dems find their voice on this issue the more manageable this situation will be in the longer term.

Ultimately though, we only ceded a little bit of popular support in this election in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It is hard to be too critical of the Lib Dem campaign when even the Tory, UKIP and Labour campaigns were being drowned out at the same time. Somehow however, we need to find a way of articulating a popular form of European integrationism by 2014. Any ideas?

Jo Swinson and those complaints

Rob Parsons commented:

OK, I have a nice letter from the Telegraph. What now?

It looks as if Rob got the same letter I did, which read as follows:

Thank you for your email of 27 May 2009, which was addressed to telegrapheditorial.

While we note your comments, we believe that the above article was written and in a way that will be readily understood by our readers. The facts are not in dispute and Jo Swinson was given full opportunity to respond. Following publication we were contacted by a Liberal Democrat press officer on Ms Swinson’s behalf. This was only to draw our attention to part of a headline on the website version of the article, whichwas then modified as requested. The matter was resolved amicably and no other issue was raised.

we are satisfied that there has been no breach of the PCC Code of Practice.

Yours sincerely,

Rhidian Wynn Davies
Consulting Editor

The Telegraph response is as innuendo-laden as the original article. “We believe that the above article was written and in a way that will be readily understood by our readers” – yeah, I believe that too. Just as journalists took it to mean that she had claimed cosmetics on expenses (without actually saying so), I’m sure the general readership drew the same conclusion. And as for “the facts are not in dispute” -that’s only because the issue is not the facts but the way they were presented. More to the point, the fact that they were reported at all given that the story itself contains no explicit allegations of wrongdoing, merely the suggestion of the possibility of it.

To answer Rob’s question, and having spoken to a number of people about this, by response is a grudging “not much.” My understanding is that Jo herself is wary of taking the matter further on the reasonable grounds that a poor ruling by the PCC, whose independence is questionable at the best of times, would simply make things worse. She has a point. It is hard to see where to go from here given that the Telegraph are unlikely to admit any wrongdoing and ultimately have taken steps, however cynical, to stay on the right side of defamation law.

The response from the Guardian was rather more positive. In case you missed it, they published the following in their corrections and clarifications column on 27 March:

In the category Cheapest claims, we stated without qualification that cosmetics were included in receipts submitted by Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire (23 May, page 6). Jo Swinson has denied claiming for these makeup items, telling the Telegraph, which originally reproduced one of her receipts, that the cosmetics appeared on a Boots receipt for other items she was claiming.

Perhaps this isn’t the apology Jo deserves, but it is at least an acknowledgement that they had no factual basis for the story.

Finally, there is the matter of the BBC. I wrote to them on the same day as the Telegraph and the Guardian yet to date have had no response whatsoever. The offending article is still there. They have corrected her picture, but have not even corrected the name of her constituency which surely even the most arrogant of journalist would have to accept is beyond dispute.

The BBC case is actually more serious than the Telegraph one. Where the Telegraph have published innuendo, the BBC have made a specific allegation despite not even having access to the original expenses records that the Telegraph have access to. They haven’t responded in a timely manner. They are bound by law to be impartial and they are funded out of the public purse.

So the next step, which I will be doing tomorrow, is to issue a formal complaint to the BBC Trust. Watch this space.

2009: worst local elections ever?

I wrote a short piece on the local elections on CiF yesterday, which is now live. At the time I was struggling to come up with a proper assessment of how the Lib Dems had done in the local elections so mostly concentrated on the departure of Lord Rennard, but I did write this:

The Lib Dems’ performance in the local elections last week appears to be a perfect example of the perniciousness of the British electoral system. Our overall share of the vote was up but we haemorrhaged councillors because of a swing from Labour to the Conservatives and independents. The Tories certainly performed strongly in this election, but their gains massively outweigh their share of the vote. This ought to make any right-minded individual seethe with a sense of injustice.

At the time I was wondering if the final Lib Dem tally would actually end up positive. Looking at the BBC results service yesterday, every time I refreshed our negative score got a bit smaller. In the end, the BBC have recorded a net -4 result for the party. However, Sky are saying -47.

Why the difference? Well, it seems that the BBC are counting all the new unitaries as entirely new and thus not recording them as gains or losses for any party, while Sky are basing it on notional results. I have to say that Sky are right – these unitaries didn’t appear out of nowhere and in the case of Cornwall they have simply phased out all the district councils. Nonetheless, -47 is an uncomfortable result for the party.

Tim Montgomerie has been jumping up and down on ConservativeHome and the “independent” PoliticsHome to brand this as “the decline of the Liberal Democrats” but let’s have a bit of perspective. Firstly, there is the fact that by all accounts the Lib Dems got more votes on Thursday than in any other set of county council elections. Hardly a decline. Secondly, these losses are almost exclusively limited to the South West – where we had the most to lose. Discount the South West and we made a healthy net gain of seats overall.

Clearly something happened in the South West. Tim puts it all down to the tactical genius of Eric Pickles and the fact that the Tories have finally learned that goose-stepping and doing Hitler salutes (figuratively speaking) isn’t a particularly effective way to win votes. However, we are talking about the South West here and on a day where the county council elections coincided with the European elections. The South West is notoriously eurosceptic and this was presumably a major factor as well. And in Cornwall in particular there is a lot of strong feeling about the creation of the unitary – this almost certainly hurt us.

Should the party have diverted more funds to battling the Tories and UKIP in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset? I’m sure a lot of people in the area think so and it might have stopped Tim from being able to crow today, but long term it would have been foolish. But it might also have simply been a collossal waste of money. You can’t simply throw money around and employ a bag of tricks and win elections. One would have thought that a Conservative, of all people, would understand that.

Hopefully we’ll have some decent county-by-county analysis of these results to chew over soon. My guess is that it will throw up some appalling examples of undemocratic results. Labour have been wiped out in many parts of the country, but they still got more than 1-in-5 votes. The Tory share of the vote is not particularly high and has plunged compared to last year. Their success nationwide is almost entirely down to the collapse of the Labour vote.

I’m sure a lot of Tories reading this will retort that all this is just sour grapes, but what is the point of an election if it doesn’t reflect public opinion? What’s worse, it creates a political vacuum in places through which extremists rush through (Hugh Muir seems to absolve the Lib Dems of this in his article today – he shouldn’t. The English Democrats’ victory in Doncaster yesterday for instance was helped by the local Lib Dems’ decision not to field a candidate).

These results ought to be a wakeup call. Sadly, the media has now switched all its attention back on Labour infighting.

Europe, turnout, the BNP, the Greens and fair votes

I’ve just got back from an hour’s stint on LBC talking about Yurp. Myself and fellow guest Hugo Brady from the Centre of European Reform were both under the impression we were there to discuss how the European Parliament works and the elections themselves. Instead we found ourselves being asked to mount a full frontal defence of the EU itself, covering everything from the CAP to auditing budgets. Not an easy task when you aren’t prepared (and as a non-expert of the subject I probably wouldn’t have gone on on that basis, but there you go).

For the record, incidently, I would quite happily scrap the Common Agricultural Policy. It’s appalling. If you do think that however, and you actually care about people unfairly affected by it in developing countries (as one of the callers purported to do), then the single worst thing you could do is pull out of the EU and allow the opponents of reform to have it entirely their own way. I don’t like a lot of UK policies and want UK political reform, but if you heard me calling for us to pull out of the UK on that basis you would consider me to be an utter loon.

What I didn’t get a chance to discuss were the poll findings that Vote Match/Unlock Democracy unveiled yesterday suggesting that tomorrow’s turnout could be an all time high for the European Elections. 50% in our YouGov survey said they were definitely going to vote (another 11% gave an ‘8’ or ‘9’ incidentally), which YouGov advise suggests a nominal turnout of 43-45%. That’s pretty unprecedented.

It is clear that the reason for this potentially (and comparatively) high turnout is not a hard fought contest about the European Parliament itself (if only) but MPs’ expenses and the subsequent meltdown of the UK Parliament. In short, the public are out to give the political classes a bloody nose. But it is also interesting to note both the generational and gender differences. Simply put, younger voters will be turning out in much fewer numbers and are not doing so because they simply don’t know what the elections are about. Older voters are, unsurprisingly, most likely to turn out. But it is the middle-aged voters who are most likely to abstain because of the expenses scandal itself. Women are likely to turn out in comparative numbers to men but their reason for not doing so again has more to do with not knowing enough about the elections than it has to do with scandal.

YouGov have also done an eve of poll for the Telegraph, suggesting that Labour may be pushed into third or even fourth place. As Anthony Wells has been chronicling, the polls are all over the place at the moment – the pollsters’ rules-of-thumb assumptions which they use to weight their data appear to have been blown wide open by the collapse in Labour support. We live in unprecedented times and it remains to be seen which pollster emerges with the most credit.

Nonetheless Anthony makes a good fist of an argument that YouGov are likely to be more accurate than most and for all their critics they have tended to be quite accurate. Either way, it looks terrible for Labour, with the Tory and Lib Dem levels of support staying at around their 2004 levels. The Greens look like their vote will be up while UKIP could either be significantly up or a bit down.

The Telegraph report that the 5% figure the YouGov poll gives the BNP suggests that they may well make the breakthrough they were hoping for in the North West. We only have the national figures to look at right now but unless the North West specific figures say something different, I’m not so sure. Based on the national swing, that puts the parties in the North West at:

Conservative: 23% (-1%, 2 MEPs)
Labour: 20% (-7%, 2 MEPs)
Lib Dem: 16% (-, 2 MEPs)
UKIP: 14% (+2%, 1 MEP)
Green: 10% (+4%, 1 MEP)
BNP: 6% (-, 0 MEPs)

Those figures come with a health warning, not to mention the fact that national swings are pretty spurious at the best of times. But it does highlight one aspect of this election which has been criminally under-reported: the resurgence of the Green Party. The psephology behind their Stop Nick Griffin campaign is entirely spurious but there is no escaping the fact that every vote for the Greens in the North West will make it harder for the BNP to get elected (where they are wrong is where they claim that a tactical Green vote is better than a vote for the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems or UKIP in this respect). And with a poll leap of the scale that every pollster appears to be reporting will result in a quite healthy haul of Green MEPs. This is a big deal – certainly a bigger deal than the possibility that the BNP might win a single seat. Yet by and large they have been ignored.

If I have one prediction to make about these elections it is that they will be a vindications of the proportional voting system. I dislike closed list systems but even closed list-PR is better than closed list-FPTP.

Would we be looking at such a dramatic result if we still used FPTP for the European Elections? In one sense, we would. The story right now would not be “will the BNP gain a seat in the North West?” but “will the BNP gain seats in East London, the Potteries, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire?” All of these areas are places where FPTP has enabled the BNP to gain a foothold – often gaining swathes of seats with remarkably small shares of the vote. The BNP would have a much easier time targeting four old-style Euro-constituencies than they have targeting a whole region. Far from making it easier for the BNP then, PR has actually made it tougher.

But overall, it would have lead to business-as-usual. PR has given the public a means of punishing the political class (which as a whole, completely deserves it). Without PR, we would be looking at a repeat of 1989 where the Greens got 15% of the vote and not a single seat. Now maybe it is time the Greens (and UKIP) got their act together and learned to target but the electorate shouldn’t have to wait for them to get their tactics right in order to express its displeasure (and targeting is at best a necessary evil in any case).

Face the facts: under FPTP, we would not now be looking at as high a turnout and the main parties would be sitting pretty. The public would have no outlet to vent their frustration. That would have been a dangerously unhealthy state of affairs.

It is certainly frustrating that the last thing this election is being decided upon is what it is osensibly about – the future direction of the European Union. But if what we get in exchange is the first real opportunity for the public to fully express itself in a UK-wide election, that is a price worth paying. Now: let’s replace it with an open list system or STV so it can be even better!