United with Livingstone

Opposition to the BNP makes for some curious political alliances

There is not much on which Ken Livingstone and I agree.

However we are united in our determination to ensure that next May’s election to the London Assembly do not produce one or more members of the British National Party sitting in City Hall.

The electoral system for the Assembly has 14 'first past the post' constituencies and, with the current lead in the polls, the Conservatives should pick up 10 or 11 seats.

Then there are the 11 so-called 'top up seats' elected under a system of proportional representation named after its Belgian founder D’Hondt.

In 2004 this produced two UKIP members of the Assembly who, after less than a year, defected to Robert Kilroy-Silk’s soon forgotten egomaniac Veritas Party.

They now sit as the the 'One London' Party after UKIP (in my view wisely) refused to take them back.

These two illustrate the dangers of proportional representation. One has the look of a refugee from the Haberdashery Department of John Lewis and the other (on those occasions he turns up) plays entirely to the gallery and repeats the views of whoever the last person to knobble him was. Neither member will survive next May under any banner as the poll does not coincide with the European Parliament election.

However UKIP/Veritas/One London’s reasonably harmless, usually right wing, and totally ineffective presence in the Chamber at City Hall can be contrasted with the Green Party who have used their two votes to hold the Mayor to ransom over his budget and have cleverly and adroitly used their office to promote their general political philosophy and build their power base - on Lewisham and Southwark Councils in particular.

Indeed it has been suggested that the public resources available to the Green Party at City Hall in staffing and other costs have allowed them to run an effective London-wide machine.

It is exactly this Green Party scenario that Londoners should be worried about next May in relation to the BNP.

Five percent of the vote will give the far-right party one seat and eight percent, potentially, two seats.

On top of the £50K-a-year salary paid to Assembly members and the media profile they attract, about £100,000 is currently allocated per member in much needed member support costs.

The nightmare of the BNP funding its London operation from taxpayers’ money is too ghastly to contemplate. The same applies to the fast disintegrating Respect Party and their culture of extremism, although their electoral chances are diminishing by the week.

In a perfect world no Londoner will be misguided enough to vote for extreme parties, but what would be far more sensible would be put the genie of proportional representation, an imported Continental invention and decidedly unbritish, back in the bottle and keep our traditional election system.

You have been warned!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.