[BroxtoweInfo] Democracy, fairness and smaller parties
Before the Euro-elections, I commented that the limited number of seats available made it very unlikely that the LibDems or Greens would win a seat. In the event, both got only about half the number of votes needed, but what they did do was what I suspected might happen: they drew enough votes off Labour to deliver the fifth Euro-seat in the East Midlands to the Conservatives (note: this is only true if a proportion would otherwise have voted Labour).
Moreover, it’s a matter of record that the tiny Green vote in 2010 was larger than the margin of Tory victory, and if they’d not stood I’d possibly have won (as probably one of the greenest MPs). Meanwhile, the LibDems pretended in 2010 that they were poised to win (at the count their agent admitted that their real target was just 20%), and I know voters who felt actively misled.
However, it’s not that simple. Two readers who I like and respect, both Green voters who have supported me at General Elections, criticised my comments on the Euros. Why shouldn’t LibDem voters vote LibDems and Green voters vote Green in the Euros, when they had at least a chance of getting a seat because the Euro electoral system uses a form of proportional representation? What are smaller parties supposed to do – never stand at all?
The same issue arises on the other wing of politics. When UKIP said they intended to make a serious effort in Broxtowe, our MP was quoted as saying that would be undesirable because it increased the chance of Labour winning the seat (not because of anything to do with representing Broxtowe well).
The danger of these sorts of argument is that we reduce the issue to saying politics is about Conservative vs Labour and everyone else should stop being a nuisance. That’s clearly unreasonable – Labour candidates need to try to win the arguments for our policies, not just shoehorn everyone into our box. But if voters decide to go elsewhere, it’s important that it’s done with open eyes. It is, most observers think, virtually certain that the winner in Broxtowe next year will be either Anna Soubry (who got 39% last time) or me (who got 38.3% last time). In theory it could be anyone, but in practice probably not the LibDems (16.9% last time), UKIP or the BNP (2.3% and 2.7%) or the Greens (0.8%). That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote for whoever you most like, simply to show support for them, but if you want to affect the outcome you probably do need to vote for one of the two likely candidates.
Many people do find this a dilemma. They genuinely have a different preference, but they also want to influence who represents Broxtowe. We can’t solve the dilemma, but we can make it easier in a few ways.
If I’m elected, I’ll argue for the introduction of proportional representation in local elections. There are councils where every councillor is from the same party, whereupon the winners tend to divide into factions and the losers just give up. We should give smaller parties a chance to get in and influence policy. This means that there will rarely be a dominant party – but that’s been the case in Broxtowe for a long time anyway, and we have learned to live with it quite well. Personally I favour PR nationally as well, but let’s at least make a start locally in the next Parliament.The Euro-elections need larger regions, so that the proportional system actually works. It’d be reasonable to have about 10 MEPs per region, as they do in the London area: that would give seats to any party that can get 8-10%, a reasonable target even for a new party.Candidates who want the support of people from smaller parties should be prepared to meet them, listen, and take on board ideas that they find persuasive. When I was the MP I invited groups of LibDem and Green Party members down to Westminster to discuss current issues (and meet a LibDem MP in the former case), and I invited the Tories as well (I got a dusty answer, but that’s OK) and would do the same for UKIP, even though they might not be much common ground. It’s part of the job of an MP to give access to everyone, and I’m genuinely interested in ideas, and would like to exchange views: none of us are always right. When the election comes round, I’d like to have plenty of all-party debates again, just as we did last time. In fact, once the LibDems and UKIP have finally selected their candidates, let’s make a start without waiting for the election.
Last but not least, those of us in larger parties need to accept that there is a dilemma and avoid being arrogant about it. If Labour didn’t exist I’d be LibDem or Green myself, and I do see the problem: I’m sorry if I seemed to ignore it. I’d just ask that you take both sides of the dilemma into account when you decide how to vote next year. If you decide to support me despite preferring another party, at the very least I promise not to misrepresent it, and to treat it as a mandate to try to reach beyond traditional party boundaries and work for the community.
PS Welcome to all the people who are following my Twitter account, @nick4broxtowe. If you’re not yet on the list, do join in!