The myth of AV and the BNP

The No to AV campaign’s nonsense continues.

The BNP bogeyman is the favoured weapon of the No to AV campaign. Its latest campaign video focuses on the potential power of "unpopular fringe parties" to have undue influence over results in certain constituencies.

"The people who vote for the unpopular fringe parties could end up having the deciding vote," warns the video's voiceover, above an ominous soundtrack. "In over 30 constituencies at the last election, BNP voters could have decided which candidate won the seat. It isn't right."

The main thing that isn't right, however, is No to AV's claim that BNP voters could have decided the results in more than 30 constituencies.

The video warns that in some areas the BNP votes outnumber the majorities of the winning candidate. The accompanying press release lists the 35 seats where "BNP votes" have "the greatest change [sic] of swinging an election".

This is a statement which, as well as being misspelled, is more than a little disingenuous.

One of the constituencies listed is Hampstead and Kilburn, which was carried by Glenda Jackson with a tiny majority of 42. With a turnout of 52,822, under AV the winner would have required a total of 26,411 votes or more (provided every voter had listed a preference for every candidate). The Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem candidates got 17,332, 17,290 and 16,491 votes, respectively.

The BNP, however, got a whopping 328 votes. Even if they voted en masse for another candidate, the mainstream candidates would still be a good 8,000 votes short of the required amount. In other words, "BNP votes" will have barely any influence at all, never mind swing the election. Despite No to AV claims that AV will see parties pandering to BNP voters, Jackson will not be shoving anti-immigrant propaganda through the letter boxes of Hampstead's leafy suburbs just yet.

It's a similar story in Sheffield Central. Labour won with 165 more votes than the Lib Dems. The BNP's 903 votes are significant in such a tight election. But not nearly as significant as the 6,414 votes cast for Conservative, Green, Ukip and independent candidates. The preferences of BNP voters in Sheffield Central cannot swing the election – Tory and Green votes can.

Only in Dagenham could "BNP votes" alone push a candidate above the 50 per cent threshold – as the graphic in the video suggests would happen under AV – giving the Labour MP Jon Cruddas a larger majority. So, let's give the video a more accurate headline: "Under AV, the people who vote for the unpopular fringe parties could end up having the deciding vote – in Dagenham."

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.