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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.