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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Marginalising the extremists

Those opposing electoral reform have long suggested that it might benefit extremists, however as Billy Bragg points out in the Independent, the opposite is the case.

He argued that the BNP stands its best chance of getting its candidates voted into office when there were small turnouts in elections conducted on the current system: "It's much easier for them to get elected under first-past-the-post – they need a small number of angry, highly motivated people to win under first-past-the-post," he told The Independent. "If there was a plurality of parties standing that would help marginalise not just the BNP, but also all extremists."

Bragg added: "If AV is going to help the BNP, why are they against AV? They are opposed to AV because they know that to win power they have to gain more than 50 per cent of the vote."

He is supported by a study of voting patterns for the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank which contradicts claims by opponents of electoral reform that AV would mean BNP supporters having an extra bearing on election results:

The IPPR report, to be published next week, concludes that BNP voters could not have changed the outcome in any Westminster seat if last year's general election had been held under AV. It considered whether a mass transfer of BNP supporters' votes alone could have pushed a candidate over the 50 per cent threshold required under AV and examined whether their second preferences could have produced different winners from the actual victors in May 2010. It concluded: "Those that claim the BNP could exert influence in elections under AV seriously overestimate their chances of doing so."

The paper also rebuts many of the myths being spun by opponents of reform, a section that is well worth reading.
[Corrected version of my last message:]

One of the problems with AV is that because its redistribution procedure artificially inflates support for the largest parties, it would not only exclude small extremist parties but also reduce the representation of the smaller mainstream parties — in Wales, Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Surely it would have helped the Liberal Democrats at the last election? Look at Swansea West & Newport East. Plenty of Conservative transfers available there, and even pre-coalition I imagine most Tories would rather have a Lib Dem than Labour.
Fair point — but this effect would only operate in constituencies in which one of the smaller parties was consistently the runner-up, and a strong one at that (at least 20% of the votes cast), under FPTP.

By definition, this is only going to apply in a minority of constituencies. In the majority, the regular runner-up is one of the largest parties. Thus the overall effect would be to strengthen the position of the largest parties in Parliament.
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