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Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Stopping the BNP

Interesting press release from the Electoral Reform Society today demonstrating how the BNP have benefitted from the First Past the Post system of elections. I have to say that the psephology of their argument was a bit dodgy to say the least. Their premise was that the BNP won six seats last year in 12 wards on the basis of a third of the votes. If this pattern is repeated in the next two years then that will give them a majority. However, if my memory serves me correctly the BNP have subsequently lost one of those seats in a by-election and the complacency that allowed them to make these gains in the first place is being addressed. In particular the Liberal Democrats have shown themselves very adept at defeating the BNP simply by campaigning on the issues and showing people that the premise that the main political parties don't care and have let them down is not true. The Electoral Reform Society do have a very good point however in illustrating how under First Past the Post it is possible for a small minority party to pick up seats and gain influence in local Councils on a small proportion of the vote. It is a fact that a large number of Councils are balanced in no overall control on First Past the Post, undermining the argument that PR will lead to such results. It can happen under any system. The issue is that STV will give an outcome that reflects the way people voted, First Past the Post will not. As a result Councils will be more accountable and receptive to public opinion and needs. If that is not a convincing argument for change then I don't know what is.

"If that is not a convincing argument for change then I don't know what is."

Glad you've come round to my view on this: I don't know what a convincing argument for PR is either. In any event, yours doesn't fall into that category. STV will *not* 'give an outcome that reflects the way people voted', for the composition of the executive has no necessary relation to the way the votes were cast. There is no such thing as 'fair votes': there are better or worse electoral systems for different purposes. PR is a bad system in a mature democracy, because it tends to stasis (which was indeed - though more euphemistically put - the essential rationale of PR as argued by the late Lord Jenkins). It's a better system in a society where there's a disaffected minority that needs to be brought into the political process (e.g. the old Stormont would have benefited from a PR system).

Oliver Kamm 20 January 2004
I haven't come around to your point of view but I do recognise the essential truth that there is no perfect electoral system. My argument is that the Single Transferable Vote system is fairer because it better reflects the way people voted and therefore produces more accountable Government. I am not opposed to politicians working together for a common cause, in fact I think that this is a good thing. Like all other party politicians however I would prefer to have an unhindered majority. It is not likely that STV will produce that result but it is possible. The difference between us seems to be on our preferred form of Government rather than on the process, though obviously the process is crucial to the outcome.
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