Daily Archives: 8 June 2009

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 politics.co.uk. 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?