Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why a Yes to AV would make it impossible for the BNP to win a seat at Westminster

I see from yesterday's Daily Mail that a Tory party panicked by the possibility of a Yes vote in the AV referendum is about to raise the silly spectre of "advances for the BNP" under a reformed electoral system. Now, I'm all for saying we shouldn't be squeamish about the potential effect of PR on representation for extremist parties - a fair voting system is a fair voting system, full stop. But the fact is that AV is not a proportional system, and far from making it easier for far-right parties to win seats, it will actually make it much, much harder. For a vivid illustration of why this is the case, let's have a look at the 2002 French presidential election, fought under a run-off system that is similar in principle to AV. Here is the first round result -

Jacques Chirac (Rassemblement pour la République) 19.88%
Jean-Marie Le Pen (Front national) 16.86%
Lionel Jospin (Parti socialiste) 16.18%

So if that had been a first-past-the-post election, Le Pen would have come within a terrifying three per cent of becoming President of France, on an absurd "mandate" consisting of less than a fifth of electors who turned out to vote. But as it was, the backers of the assorted eliminated candidates (Jospin was one of fourteen) were given the chance to express a preference between Chirac and Le Pen in the run-off vote. Look at the difference that made in terms of how close the National Front came to claiming the keys to the Élysée Palace -

Jacques Chirac (Rassemblement pour la République) 82.21%
Jean-Marie Le Pen (Front national) 17.79%

The lesson could hardly be clearer - if you want to make absolutely certain that Nick Griffin will not become an MP, vote to replace first-past-the-post with the instant run-off system AV.


  1. Except for the fact the AV system proposed is the same as the one in QLD that saw 11 OneNation MPs elected. FPTP would have only seen 8 elected.

    AV is being billed as the first step to PR which if AV doesn't allow BNP in the PR certainly will.

  2. Anon, I suspect you know that your second point is pushing it a bit. If a "first step to PR" was on the ballot paper, I'd happily defend a Yes vote on precisely that basis, as PR would be superior to AV. But that's not what's on the ballot paper, so in an imperfect world I'm getting on with pointing out the merits of AV in its own right.

    I'll have to bow to your superior knowledge of Queensland politics, but one thing I do know - for One Nation to win seats, they must have been attracting 50%+ on the final count in each constituency. That's an indication that they must have had a much, much, much broader range of support than a party like the BNP. Therefore, the only caveat I'd need to put on my original observation is that so long as a far-right party enjoys the sympathy of only a minority (no matter how substantial a minority that is) AV makes it considerably less likely they will be elected. If (heaven forbid) we ever get to the point where the majority are sympathetic to them, of course they stand to be elected under absolutely any system you could devise - AV, FPTP, or any variant of PR.