A few weeks ago at the Uprise Mayoral “youth” hustings Brian Paddick made what seemed to be an off-hand remark. He claimed that a vote for the Liberal Democrats could keep the far right BNP out of the Assembly. There was so much nonsense being spoken that night that it seemed churlish to highlight what might have been a simple slip of the forked tongue.
However, since then it’s become clear that it’s the Lib Dem ‘line’ that their vote is an anti-fascist vote which is why it’s so important to re-elect their team. The problem with this claim is that it is unadulterated rubbish.
In the absence 0f a dodgy bar graph anyone could plausibly believe (“Only Paddick can win here” anyone? No.) they’ve had to resort to the next best crime against maths that they can manage.
More importantly this claim is not just an affront to mathematics, which all activists of all parties have come to expect from Liberal Democrats, but it’s also playing with far right fire.
At Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Mr Paddick said that “We used to have five London Assembly Members and we can have five Assembly Members again. Last time we only got three and a member of the BNP got in instead. I don’t know about you but I don’t want the BNP in the London Assembly. I don’t want UKIP in the London Assembly. That’s how important every single vote cast for the London Liberal Democrats is in this election.”
In addition London’s Lib Dem activists last month recieved this email from HQ;
“When the votes are counted on Friday 4 May, it’ll take only a small change in votes from last time to defeat the BNP and elect myself to the London Assembly.
“To make that happen and kick the BNP off the GLA we need to raise more funds for our campaign.
“It will only take a small increase in the Liberal Democrat list to elect myself – and to push the BNP below the threshold for winning a seat. Any donation you can make really could make the difference between having a racist member of the BNP on the GLA – or myself, a Asian muslim woman who grew up in Tooting and has lived in London for decades.
“Please help make this happen and donate today.
“Shas Sheehan, Lib Dem London List candidate”
So, does this stack up?
How the system works (skip this section if bored easily)
You have two votes for the Assembly. One for your constituency and one for the “top-up” list.
In order to get elected on the list a party needs to achieve at least 5% of the vote. Candidates from all the eligible parties are then elected using proportional representation. In this case it is a modified D’Hondt system, which means it takes into account how many constituency seats a party has won before allocating the PR seats.
Put simply this means if you win 50% of the vote you do not win 50% of the top up list places, but you win enough of them to top you up to 50% of the total seats including the constituencies. So if you won all the constituency seats you’d get no PR seats at all, as the other parties would be underrepresented, if you had won very few constituencies you might get more than half of the PR seats to ensure you get your fair share.
Whew! That’s the system explained then.
So could the Lib Dems have pipped the BNP at the post in 2008?
There was no relationship at all between the two parties. Of the eleven list places available the BNP won the third seat. That means that instead of winning three seats the Lib Dems would have had to win ten of eleven seats to deny the BNP a place. Brian Paddick claimed that the BNP won a seat “instead” of the Lib Dems. This is just untrue.
The only relationship between the two is that driving up turnout so that the 130 thousand people who voted BNP went from 5.3% to below the 5% threshold – but this applies to voting for *any* party that is not the BNP and has nothing to do with the Lib Dems.
The only way to stop someone getting elected in the London elections is to ensure that they don’t get 5% of the vote. If the BNP had got 5% plus one vote they would have been elected in exactly the same spot as they were in 2008 with 5.3%. No particular party has any statistically useful role in this. Even voting for parties that won’t get elected helps drive up the number of votes you need to attain that 5% threshold.
That’s always true and is one effect of the somewhat arbitrary 5% threshold.
Fact checking the Lib Dem claims for 2012
So, the fourth placed Lib Dem candidate says that “It will only take a small increase in the Liberal Democrat list to elect myself – and to push the BNP below the threshold for winning a seat.”
This is 100% untrue.
The BNP will not achieve the threshold because less people are going to vote for them this time. A higher turnout makes achieving the threshold harder (for everyone including the Liberal Democrats), votes for the Lib Dems specifically have no bearing at all.
If the BNP win 5% of the vote they will get a seat, no matter how the votes for the other parties fall. They are unlikely to do so because their political fortunes are dismal having lost their London councillors, and the poor performance of their Assembly Member who is now no longer a BNP member.
It is also untrue because in order to win an extra member last time (at the expense of the Tories) the Lib Dem vote would have had to go from 250 thousand to around 300 thousand, which in anyone’s money is much more than just a “small increase”.
Leaving aside the fact that the Mayoral candidate is claiming five AMs is within reach and Shas Sheehan is claiming that, with luck, they might just elect her, the fourth placed candidate, what we see here is a woeful ignorance of the electoral maths. Actually, to be more precise, the Lib Dems are relying on other people having that ignorance and believing a claim which is simply untrue.
Not just bad maths, it’s bad politics
No one sensible thinks the Lib Dems are going to increase their vote, but they are contractually obliged to pretend that might happen so we’ll forgive them. What cannot be forgiven is bandying around the BNP bogeyman for purely selfish interests.
People vote for the BNP because the mainstream parties hate them. When everyone runs around screaming the BNP are coming it makes it appear that a vote for the BNP is effective at shaping the political debate.
Right now we are in the happy position that the BNP are dead on their feet. Riven with fatal, self inflicted wounds, burdened with a paranoid and ineffectual leadership and collapsing into an electoral ditch the BNP’s London campaign will be as near to non-existent as we could hope for.
The only person who regards them as an electoral force to be reckoned with is Brian Paddick at the very time when the electorate have realised these are a bunch of sad and pointless individuals who don’t deserve their vote. That’s the BNP I mean, not the Lib Dems. Paddick’s pitch is more likely to boost the BNP vote than knock it by convincing potential defectors that the BNP brand still has enough life in it to pee off the hoypoloi.
There’s one sure way of shoring up the far right vote at this election and that’s for the major contenders to run round wetting themselves at the thought of these punch drunk has-beens who couldn’t land an effective right hook if their lives depended on it. This election is not about the far right, and any attempt to say it is risks actually making that true.
That is a great disservice to every decent Londoner and for what? Petty self interest.
The Lib Dems need to ditch this line because it is not just demonstrably untrue, it actually feeds the dying BNP machine at the very point when it’s about to expire.