Tag Archives: bnp

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Have we reached peak flag?

There are some days when I couldn’t feel more alienated from UK politics, and today is one of them. While we are still struggling to comprehend why the people of Rochester and Strood just re-elected an MP who is a virtual caricature of every worst Westminster character trait imaginable in what they seem to think is a defiant anti-Westminster rebuff, Labour opted to lose it completely. They sacked Emily Thornberry from the front bench for posting a picture of a house with three England flags in the window alongside in a way that might be construed as mildly passive-aggressive. Sacked immediately by an apparently furious Ed Miliband, we’ve been bombarded today by pictures of the house’s occupant, nicknamed “White Van Dan” riding around Islington in his van, which has now been covered by Sun newspaper stickers. Meanwhile, asked what he thinks whenever he sees a white van, Ed Miliband came up with the ultimate Thick-Of-It-ism by replying “respect“.

Hanging over all this is the spectre of Gillian Duffy, the pensioner from Rochdale who Gordon Brown unwisely called a bigoted woman while wearing a live microphone during the 2010 general election campaign. In both cases, the response has seemed as out of touch if less authentic than the original offence. In fact, the only thing less authentic is the manufactured outrage whipped up by the media and Labour’s rivals which caused the apologies in the first place.

Labour aren’t just the victims of this. Just yesterday, Labour’s new anti-Green unit had managed to get the Evening Standard to publish a story attacking Green Party leader Natalie Bennett for the apparently egregious offence of travelling across Europe in a comfortable train instead of the indignity of squatting in one of those flying toilets that passes for a RyanAir plane. As someone who did something rather similar last month, albeit mostly out of a desire for comfort rather than wanting to minimise carbon emissions, I struggle to understand what the fuss is about. I certainly struggle to understand why Labour thinks this is going to alienate potential voters from the Green Party.

Much of what I wrote about Norman Baker’s treatment following his resignation earlier this month also applies to this latest debacle. I’m growing increasingly despairing of politicians’ craven need to indulge every reactionary twinge, as long as it emerges from a housing estate. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is genuine concern for the poor and marginalised in society however; I have no idea if White Van Dan receives benefits or not, but under different circumstances he is exactly the kind of bloke that the Sun typically vilifies for being a scrounger, with Labour cheerleading behind it. If you’re poor, the political class hate you; yet if you say something like “it’s not racist to want to kick brown people out of the country”, you are fêted and patronised as the authentic voice of the working classes. Meanwhile, the under-25s are looking at having their benefits slashed regardless of whether Labour or the Tories win a plurality at the next general election. And despite housing being one of the biggest single causes of poverty and social immobility, none of the parties appear to be interest in doing much about it.

The thing is, as a strategy for marginalising the far right, it doesn’t work, at all, as Ukip’s surge in recent years and the BNP’s upswing before that has repeatedly demonstrated. We are fortunate in this country in that most of our far right parties are so venal that they tend to turn in on themselves as soon as they get a whiff of success (helped along by organisations like Hope Not Hate). The BNP and English Defence League both spectacularly self-destructed, as indeed did Ukip 10 years ago following Robert Kilroy Silk’s attempts at a takeover. And looking at the oddballs which Ukip got elected as MEPs this year, there’s a good chance they will self-destruct again.

But by not challenging the very thing they stand for, all the main parties have achieved is to grow the reactionary core vote. As parties collapse, new ones rise up and quickly take their place. If Nigel Farage does self-immolate at some point, you can bet that there’s another smooth talking, slimy public former public schoolboy ready to take his place.

As it is, when people say idiotic things like immigration is a taboo subject in British politics, the main parties all nod their heads sagely, despite knowing that it’s all they ever talk about. I’m hardly the first person to notice that “Ukip are right, don’t vote for them” has spectacularly failed as a political message. And while politicians are falling over themselves to come up with ever harsher anti-immigration policies, whilst straining to appear non-racist, immigrants themselves meanwhile are shoring up the NHS, the treasury and our cultural life.

With the vast majority of the public not willing to even consider voting Ukip, is it really that inconceivable to actually challenge their bullshit? I don’t mean in a mealy mouthed, apologetic way as Labour currently practices, but in a robust and pro-active way. It did not, admittedly, work particularly well for the Lib Dems during the last European elections, but their credibility has been shot to pieces. Imagine if Ed Miliband had decided to take Ukip to task at his party conference this September, instead of spending the last couple of months indulging them? He certainly wouldn’t be in a worse position than he is at the moment. I suspect that his failure to do so has more to do with the rise in Green Party popularity than any newfound concern for the environment.

I’m not a fan of nationalism, but I will confess that some people seem to be capable of practising genuine civic nationalism, and I respect them for it. In the run up and aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum, I came across dozens of examples of it campaigning for Yes. As someone who has always been quite dismissive of SNP claims to be this generous form of nationalism, as opposed to the defensive, hateful kind, this has represented something of a challenge for me (for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not suggesting that all SNP supporters are twinkly civic nationalists; far from it).

The Anglo-British political class however seem to be reacting to the nationalist challenge by adopting an equally reactionary form of nationalism. Throughout the Scottish independence referendum campaign, my twitterfeed seemed to be dominated by No campaigners and English politicos talking about how a Yes vote would force them to erect a border between Scotland and England – not to keep the nationalists out, you understand, but all the dreadful immigrants that the SNP was going to be willing to accept into the country. Self-defined lefties, progressives and Europhiles were talking about Schengen in increasingly shrill tones. This seems to be all that British nationalism has to offer; togevverness in the face of the awful outside world, and nothing but spite for Scotland if it chose to go its own way. As someone who simply doesn’t understand why I should treat Scots as any more or less comradely than the French or Danes – or Liberians for that matter, I found it weirdly alienating.

The Ango-British are really bad at nationalism, not least of all because no-one seems to be able to decide whether to wrap themselves in the English or British flag. I don’t doubt the integrity of people like Billy Bragg wanting an English civic nationalism, but even he isn’t very good at articulating it, and no-one is really listening to him in any case. Instead of trying to invent something that isn’t there, the progressive, civic nationalist thing to do is to simply not worry too much about it, and instead focus on values such as mutual respect and solidarity. Those ought to be our starting points, not a concern about alienating people who have become intoxicated with nationalist lies.

There’s a possibility that Labour might actually realise this over the next couple of months and respond accordingly, but I’m not going to be holding my breath. If they don’t however, I suspect that all we’ll see is a further fragmentation of the Labour vote as haemorrhages between the Greens and Ukip. In many ways, this isn’t a bad thing – the collapse of the established political order is looking increasingly inevitable. But while it might be a positive thing in the long term, in the short term we are likely to just see British politics adrift on a tide of racist and hateful effluent.

Biased Question Time? Bring it on!

It has to be said, the BNP has a point. The BBC did change the format of Question Time. It was almost all about the BNP’s policies, the audience was somewhat more ethnically diverse than the UK average.

Fair enough. Instead of pretending he got fair treatment, let’s be equally unfair to all the parties. Let’s have a similarly formatted show with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Throw in Nigel Farage, Caroline Lucas and the nationalist parties for good measure.

Of one thing I am absolutely certain: while they might flounder here and there, none of them will come across as badly as Griffin did last night. Not even Brown and his evasiveness. Not even Farage (although I suspect it will be a close run thing).

It would almost certainly make for better television than Question Time normally. Seeing how our political leaders face up to adversity is frankly more of a test than a programme attempting to maintain the semblance of balance. Frankly, right now I am struggling to come up with a downside.

Rolling news and the BNP

I’ve been watching the BBC’s news coverage. Since 5pm they have had one new story – Nick Griffin. This despite the fact that the Royal Mail strikes are ongoing, 6,000 Sri Lankans have been released from internment, another soldier has been killed in Afghanistan and Ethiopia has asked for food aid.

Why are the BBC so obsessed with, um, the BBC? In fairness to them, the UAF have been doing all they can to feed the media beast by protesting outside TV Centre, invading the building and helpfully coordinating parallel protests outside all the other BBC offices around the country.

Throughout the hour broadcast there was just one short two minute item which went into what Nick Griffin actually believed – pretty much everything else was talking heads and process. This isn’t news – it’s noise – and the only two memorable images to come out of it is a bunch of students being dragged around shouting something incoherent and silly about Nazis and a grinning, avuncular Nick Griffin entering the studios from the rear.

I think the BBC are right to have Griffin on Question Time. I’m a bit concerned at the format. In common with all political broadcasting in recent years it has become more soft focus, featuring celebrities and members of the commentariat to voice their often empty headed opinions. I am concerned that if the mix of questions is got wrong then Griffin will be let off the hook and allowed to express reasonable views on an assortment of fairly uncontroversial issues. I still think however that he is likely to get a harder time on the programme than I’ve seen any BBC interviewer give him – most notably Gavin Esler this afternoon.

But if every time he goes on a programme like this the UAF and the BBC decide to turn it into a day-long event then how he looks on the programme itself will be irrelevant. All people will remember is a big row which they can spin into their narrative about standing up to a wicked and venal establishment. Both organisations really need to consider their policies here and what exactly they are trying to achieve.

I’d rather have politicians interrogating the BNP than the BBC

The debate surrounding Nick Griffin’s imminent appearance on Question Time is hotting up. I’ve been intrigued by today’s events which, to cut a long story short, has resulted in Griffin suggesting that the army chiefs who have stood up to him today ought to be hanged.

It is an idiotic thing to day and something he will no doubt be challenged over on the programme on Thursday. And related to that, Sunny Hundal has some good suggestions of points that Griffin’s fellow panelists ought to challenge him with.

Here’s the thing though. I’m quite confident that Jack Straw, Chris Huhne, Bonnie Greer and even Sayeeda Warsi will be briefed up to the eyeballs and give Griffin a hard time. If anything, I’m worried that in their enthusiasm they may give the impression that he is being bullied. Sadly however, I don’t have the same confidence in the BBC to do the same, either before or afterwards.

The treatment meted out (or rather not) by Radio 1’s Newsbeat to Mark Collett and “Joey” perfectly encapsulates this. But generally, the BBC tends to talk up the chances of the BNP’s prospect and talk down quite why exactly they are “controversial”.

It isn’t just the BBC. The media generally tend to report the BNP as a phenomena without actually examining what they stand for in detail, leaving that to organisations such as the UAF, Hope not Hate and Nothing British.

My own encounter with Mark Collett was a case in point. A lifetime ago (well 2000-2002) I was the campaign organiser for the Leeds Lib Dems. Collett was standing in Harehills ward against one of our sitting councillors in a ward hotly contested by Labour. The Yorkshire Evening Post were obsessed with this, and convinced that Collett was about to march to victory. This despite the fact that the ward was only 60% white. They were putting him up on the front page every other day, screaming about an imminent BNP invasion. At one point, out of frustration, I bet a journalist that Collett would get less than 5% of the vote. Sadly we did not agree terms regarding money (I certainly needed it at the time): he got 3.8% of the vote (pdf).

The BNP are certainly a threat in Leeds now, having maneuvred themselves into the largely white parts of the borough. Their influx would have been slowed somewhat if only the media had been willing and able to keep some perspective.

So, far from condemning politicians who agree to go on Question Time, I’m hopeful that they will do a rather better job than the journalists who interview them – with less controversy – on a daily basis.

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?

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!

How to make UKIP look good…

Well done Buster Mottram for handing Nigel Farage a bit of a propaganda coup:

UKIP says it has “unanimously rejected” an offer from the British National Party for an electoral pact at next year’s European elections.

It says ex-tennis star Buster Mottram, a UKIP member who claimed to represent the BNP, made the “astonishing offer” at a meeting in London on Monday.

Under the deal the BNP would fight seats in the north while UKIP would focus on the south in the elections.

Who is Buster Mottram? Well according to the Observer, he’s their second “worst sportsman in politics” – after that well-known moderate Idi Amin – who is quoted as saying:

‘I hope Enoch Powell will never die, just as his namesake in the Bible never died.’

A former member of the National Front, one has to ask how come UKIP accepted him as a member in the first place?

Random points about the London elections

I have a few things to get off my chest regarding the London elections and so I thought I would include them as a miscellenia rather than write seperate blog posts about them.

Bozza and the bloke factor

One thing that continues to perturb me is the rapid rewriting of history from the side of the Conservatives. Specifically, they have gone from fielding a candidate who was clearly selected because of his celebrity cache to insisting (now he has won) that his main appeal to the general public was his policy agenda.

Pish, and indeed, posh. It wasn’t that Boris didn’t have policy – I actually quite liked much of his housing policy for instance (well, the bits they’d nicked off the Lib Dems anyway) – but the average member of the public would do well to remember anything more than the fact that he doesn’t like bendy buses. There was a big emphasis on crime and numerous specifics, but the main tactic there was to deny Paddick his USP (and it worked superbly).

I’ve already mentioned how the number of people saying they’d vote Boris for a “laugh” on Twitter outnumbered the more contemplative souls by something like 4-to-1. Twitterers are not exactly the most representative sample however. So if that doesn’t convince you, I would refer you to the Political Brain by Drew Westen (also namechecked by Martin Turner on Lib Dem Voice today I notice). To horrendously summarise this book, it suggests that what people vote for is not policy but who they make the best emotional connection to. Crudely, they vote for the bloke they would most like to have a pint with. That’s why George W. Bush did so well despite having anything resembling intelligence. It’s why people continue to remind the Lib Dems what a desperate mistake they made getting rid of Charles Kennedy, despite the fact that his shortcomings had become quite insurmountably by the time we did. It’s why Ken Livingstone won in 2000 and it’s why Boris beat him last week.

There’s no shame in that fact. But let’s be honest about it, eh chaps?

The Evening Standard Factor

Again, I’ve already briefly touched on this. In my view, the Standard’s coverage was less problematic than the Metro’s lack of coverage and as I suggested earlier, that was clearly a deliberate ploy of the Rothermere Press’s, taking into account the two paper’s differing demographics.

Listening to Andrew Gilligan’s endless bleating about how his was scrupulously balanced and committed to the facts though is hard to take, especially since I spent an hour on the phone with him two weeks ago being accused of being a Livingstone stooge just for attempting to produce an impartial tool for the elections (an accusation that ended up going nowhere). He might be scrupulous with the facts, but he was driven by a very clear agenda. And you can assemble a bunch of uncontestable facts in any order to make a case that a specific individual is a saint or a sinner.

To be fair on the Standard, having read it more than usually over the past couple of months I can attest that it did indeed contain numerous pro-Ken articles to balance out the negative ones. But the paper itself has a very clear demographic and very few people will be swayed by it one way or another. What the Standard does have at its disposal more than any other paper in London, is the capacity to circulate thousands of posters on a daily basis. The posters, clearly visible on pretty much every single street corner in the capital, were unrelentingly negative about Livingstone. They knew it, just as they knew that no amount of balancing articles in the paper itself would make a blind bit of difference.

And Gilligan knows perfectly well that it was his scrupulously researched articles that resulted in those lurid headlines. Again, I don’t particularly begrudge him, or his newspaper, for doing this. Long live our free press, even if it is a worry that London can’t sustain a second paid-for daily. But let’s have a bit of honesty.

How Labour Blew It

Oh let me count the ways. The major factors have already been covered ad nauseum: the cronyism scandals, the familiarity (read: contempt) of Livingstone himself, the walking disaster that is Gordon Brown. But for me there are at least two other factors which backfired on Labour spectacularly.

The first one was to frame the debate as Livingstone vs. Johnson at such an early stage. I commented on my frustration over this earlier in the year and there’s no question it made Paddick’s job harder. The point I’m making here though is different: it also made Livingstone’s job harder.

I can understand the logic behind it: the idea was that by forcing people to focus relentlessly on Johnson, his flaws would be exposed for all to see and he would collapse in a blond heap of crikeyness. The problem with that stratagem is that it assumed that Johnson would be allowed to do that, either by his own party or by a media that was spoiling for a big personality-fueled two-way contest.

What Livingstone and his supporters should have been doing as an alternative is to insist that the field was open; to talk up the chances not just of the Greens and Lib Dems but specifically of One London. Livingstone should have been insisting that all debates include all the main party contenders based on which parties were represented on the Assembly and done all he could to keep Damian Hockney in the race.

Why? Because if there had been a contender on the right with some credibility, it would have dented Johnson’s popularity. If Hockney had stayed in the race, Livingstone could have kept suggesting in debates that he was where all rightwingers’ votes should go. And Hockney, with his opposition to the Congestion Charge, support of Heathrow Airport and scepticism about multiculturalism would have been able to articulate what a lot of Johnson’s core support actually happen to believe.

A side effect of this also would have been to present potential BNP supporters with a more mainstream party to vote for, which may have kept Barnbrook out of the Assembly. This brings me to screw up Number Two: taking Boris too seriously.

To be fair, the Livingstone campaign team seemed to consistently understand the problems with presenting Johnson as a racist, homophobic snob – even if their candidate kept lapsing into this rhetoric from time to time. But they really failed to get their supporters to rein it in. The StopBoris website was a perfect example of this, as was Zoe Williams’ silly article on election day.

There are two problems with this approach. Firstly, it is simply logically implausible to expect people to regard Boris as a buffoon while taking every single word of his deadly seriously. It can’t be done and people already tempted by Boris will simply stare at you as if you don’t have a sense of humour. Johnson is a polemicist and raconteur. His articles are provocative. The right approach is to take his buffoonery head on and to suggest to people that it would be a bad idea to elect a clown as mayor. Whenever Labour stayed on message, they made progress against Johnson. Whenever they went into PC mode, they lost support.

The second problem was that it sent out the message that it is possible for a mainstream political candidate in the UK to be an appalling racist and homophobic bigot and still have a chance of winning the top prizes. Once again, I can’t help but wonder to what extent this helped the BNP who of course were only too happy to associate themselves with Johnson.

You would have thought that Labour would have learned the lesson about the limits of demonising your political opponents 12 years ago. Clearly not.