ON VOTER TURNOUT
By Marcia Hutchinson
Monday, June 22, 2009.
While we are hand-wringing about the white supremacist British National Party (BNP), we need to really look at why they were elected into European Parliament in the recent election. In a proportional representation (PR) system, what is important to fringe parties is that they get a certain percentage of the vote. If voter turnout is low and they get their vote out they will get elected.
So they key issue in the recent electoral successes of the BNP was not so much the fact that so many people voted for them but the fact that so many people did not vote at all. This meant that they were able to secure two seats in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, with just a tiny proportion of the electorate voting for them.
Many people did not realise this would happen. In a PR system, not voting at all can be worse than casting your vote for the least-worst party. If only 100 people vote and 30 of those vote for the BNP, they will get a seat as they will have 30% of the vote. However if 10,000 people vote and the same 30 of those vote for the BNP they will lose their deposit; simple as that. Turnout is everything.
The issue then becomes why did so many people stay away from the polls? Three words; Expenses, expenses, expenses. People were utterly disgusted at the way our elected representatives have been creaming off as much as they could. Duck houses, moats, non existent mortgages, the list is endless. The BNP saw their chance and they went for it. They mounted a good well organised campaign. They targeted their meagre resources at seats they were likely win.
Too many people have written them off as fascist nutters. They are not nutters, they are well-organised and dedicated and willing to put the hours (and years into their campaign), and this is a war. To fail to understand your enemy is to lose the first battle; as the West has repeatedly shown with Al Qaeda.
Labour were too busy fighting amongst themselves, plotting coup and counter-coup, to mount a half decent campaign. Many people in Yorkshire (where the BNP won a seat) report that they did not see Labour MPs campaigning in their constituencies while the BNP were all over the shop.
By betraying the trust of those who elected them our MPs have let in the extreme parties. The collapse in the Labour vote in particular was appalling; even though Tory MPs had the most outrageous expenses claims.
I could not bring myself to vote Labour but I did vote. Labour are in government and were seen to be avoiding the issue, delaying publications of MPs expenses for as long as they could before the Daily Telegraph got hold of the facts and eviscerated them, in what is probably the best political scoop this decade.
The European Elections allowed voters to make their voices heard. Ironically, had Labour published the results way back when first ordered to do so by the courts and done something about the worst culprits they might have restored public trust before the elections. Even now, after being crucified at the polls, they still don’t get it.
Claiming for a non-existent mortgage is a fraud. Fraud is a criminal offence and ignorance of the law is no defence. As MPs after (legally trained) MPs trot out the lamest excuses seen since ‘the dog ate my homework’; I see no criminal prosecutions. Why? Is it that our ‘there-but-for-the-grace-of-God’ politicians are unwilling to indict their own. Had a single mother on benefit claimed for months after she got a job she would be before a magistrate before you can say “42-inch plasma screen.” Pleading ‘oversight’ would have gotten her nowhere except a hollow laugh and six months in Holloway Prison.
If our MPs do not clean their house – and that means guilty heads rolling (to jail not just the House of Lords), we can look forward to more voter apathy, more low turnouts and more BNP MEPs and possibly MPs. Remember, “evil flourishes when good men to do nothing;” and, because of disgust with the politicians, on polling day too many voters did nothing.
Marcia Hutchinson studied law at Oxford University before practising as a solicitor for ten years. She changed direction in 1997 establishing Primary Colours to meet a need for high quality culturally diverse educational resources. She has written for a range of publications, including the Guardian, The Yorkshire Post and the Caribbean Times. She was recently the subject of ITV's My Yorkshire. She speaks regularly at conferences and other events on education for diversity.
Marcia is available to comment on all aspects of education for diversity and issues around multiculturalism in schools. For further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org