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."

Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.