Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It wasn't supposed to work out like that

It's really not much fun, you know, to keep finding reminders that being conservative-minded is very often a good idea. Wouldn't we all like to march forward into a much-improved, automatic-system, washes-whiter-than-white future? Sadly, progressive ideas lead to the unpleasantly regressive rather too often to sustain such hopes.

Everyone is freaking out about the BNP: the Question Time appearance, in particular, has got the chicken coop fluttering. We even seem to be clucking our way into that favourite media state of mind, the moral panic.

However, as needs to be continually pointed out, the BNP's support in the recent Euro elections didn't go up. Their number of seats did, but only because of the collapse in Labour support. This panic, then, is based on an electoral quirk. But what is the system that produces such a quirk?

Since 1999 the UK's European elections have been conducted using a form of the impeccably progressive proportional representation. The system involves a regional list, where seats are awarded in accordance with each party's share of the vote. Before 1999 the elections were conducted under the same first-past-the-post system used for the Westminster elections.

PR is thought progressive because it is rationally 'fair': it gives everyone a voice and one that's proportionate in volume to how many others think the same way. The BNP organised itself and re-positioned itself to take advantage of this. So now the everyone who is given a voice includes Nick Griffin whose lightly-veiled, wheedling arguments of hate we can look forward to hearing a lot more.

Doesn't seem so thoroughly progressive now does it?

And the real shame of it is that appearances can become reality. The BNP has got itself elected and raised its profile without actually increasing its support that much. Now, its voice is being heard loud and clear; it has a real chance of establishing itself as a permanent and repellent fixture in our political life. So, thanks PR and onward to the future!


Brit said...

Yep, I made exactly that point at the time. The last Euro results in which the BNP gained seats showed that, if anything, Britain is less racist, not more. But that PR can throw up such results shows why FPTP is least bad system.

Hey Skipper said...

Israel does PR.

You'd think the results would have dissuaded Britain from reinventing that wheel.

Gaw said...

Brit: The underlying assumption of the PR lobby is that the main point of elections is that they be 'fair'. No. The primary objective of an election is to elect a government, one that has a good a chance of governing well.

Skip: Reminds me of the Frenchman: 'Well it might work in practice but does it work in theory?'. It seems that repeated demonstrations of a failure to work in practice isn't sufficient to derail a theory if it seems sufficiently rational.