Tuesday 9 June 2009

All Votes Are Equal, but Some Are More Equal Than Others

OK, let’s begin with my fallback position and my lifeline: I don’t like the British National Party; I do not like its brand of politics; I do not like its racism and I do not like its ideology. I say this to avoid any misunderstanding arising from what I’m about to write, for I know how easy it is for misunderstandings to emerge. I would also suggest that this particular piece be read in tandem with The Resistible Rise of the BNP, which I wrote last week.

Anyway, I find it particularly amusing how certain political developments are received; for that reception usually tells me more about recipient than the object of their concern. Democracy is democracy, and all votes are important, all votes are meaningful in one way or another. But, oh no, they are not. Look at the pious statements, the expressions of shock and outrage, following in the wake of the BNP’s minor triumph in the European elections, allowing them to send two representatives to Europe. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, a man whom I personally happen to admire, says that, “It sickens me and it should sicken everybody…it brings shame on us that these fascists, racist thugs should have been elected to the European Parliament.” Corporal Clegg of the Liberal Democrats says that the BNP, “…don’t provide any hope and any answers.” Paul Kenny, the General Secretary of the GMB union, said, “On D-Day, Britain sent an army to Europe to stop Nazis getting to Britain [Not exactly, Mr Kenny, but never mind!]….Britain is now sending Nazis to Europe.”

We have seen it all before, have we not, that democracy is a ‘good thing’ when it produces the results that we want. We, in the west, hold up democracy, with all of our cultural conceit and arrogance, as the panacea for the ills of the world, the ills, for example, of the Muslim world. For democracy, as Graham Greene’s Alden Pyle would have preached, is the ‘Third Force’, the new beginning, is it not? But give Muslims the vote then what do you get? Why, Hamas among the Palestinians, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among the Iranians. The latter just happens to have much popular legitimacy as Barack Obama and a hell of a lot more than Joker Brown.

So, now Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons are off to Strasbourg, and the other politicians walk off the stage to demonstrate their self-righteous disapproval. Not many are prepared to face the simple fact that the corruption of our whole complacent political system is to blame; and by corruption I mean so much more than the expenses scandal.

Our prized national democracy is little better than an elected dictatorship, where a government is chosen often not just on a minority of the popular vote but on the basis of contests in key ‘swing constituencies’, where a fraction of the vote determines the eventual outcome. There are whole areas of the country that can safely be ignored, because we all know the vote there is, so to say, predetermined.

The worst parts, the most neglected parts, are those huge fiefdoms of the Labour Party, particularly strong in the north of the country, ruled over by the modern version of the Robber Baron. I would go so far as to say that people in places like Humberside have effectively been ‘disenfranchised’, whether they vote or not, if that makes sense, in our Westminster elections. Oh, we would not have these Fascists in Europe if the elections were on the basis of good-old ‘first past the post’, say the jeremiads. No, we would not; but we would still have close on a million people with no effective voice.

The fact remains, as I said in my previous piece, that people are turning to the BNP precisely because their concerns over immigration, over their own position in society, over housing and over jobs, are simply being ignored. For God sake, forget the shock horror over the success of the BNP; look at its manifesto. What will you see? Why, it’s pure ‘Old Labour’, with a strong emphasis on nationalisation, high taxation, subsidy and protectionism. Yes, every vote for the BNP is an expression of disquiet over immigration policy. More than that, it’s the call of the marginalised and the dispossessed; it’s a call for the old left-wing certainties and shibboleths of the past. Now, there is a paradox upon which to take my leave!


  1. I think the point is that every democracy contains the seeds of its own distruction, in that people might vote for an anti-democratic party that has no intention of giving up power once it has acquired it. This happened in Germany with the rise of the Nazis and has possibly happened in Gaza. That's why it's important to have strong maintream political parties that address the voters concerns.

    F.A. Hayek wrote that we think too much of democracy and not enough of the values it serves. He was right. Hong Kong was one of most free and posperous places on Earth without an elected goverment.

  2. The real point is that democracy, as a set of political practices and institutions, cannot be separated from a mature civic culture, something that evolves over time on the basis of a high degree of mutual understanding and consensus. Weimar Germany, born in defeat, was not given the time to develop such a consensus and Gaza, in the shadow of occupation, has not really had the opportunity. The corollary of this is that one does not create democracy, as if by magic, simply by removing dictators, the lesson of Iraq. What concerns me about England is that the consensus is beginning to unravel, at least on the fringes. A gloomy view, I know.

  3. The consensus between the mainstream parties is actually much stronger than during the Thatcher years, when Tory and Labour politicians often denounced each other in extreme language and the ideological divide was very wide. The problem, as you say, is on the fringes.

    Gaza is currently ruled by an Islamic fundamentalist party that does not believe in democracy - why should it believe in something so alien to the Islamic tradition? The situation in Iraq is more hopeful because the secular parties are much stronger and did well in the recent local elections.

  4. Yes, but even then there was agreement on basic principles, and even the most right-wing Tory and the most left-wing Socialist would have agreed on the basic outlines of what democracy meant, including the rule of law, parliamentary sovereignty, first past the post electoral victories and so on. Gaza is a case sui generis. Yes, I too don't believe that Islam and Democracy are compatible. Even so, I'm not aware that Hamas have forsworn future elections. There is certainly a working and competitive electoral system in places like Iran and Pakistan. As far as Iraq is concerned, Zaki, I'm not confident about the future. Have you read my blog on Iraq?

  5. In Iran, all reformist and secular candidates are disqualified, so the voters effectively have a choice between beards. Pakistan does have free elections, but the Islamic parties have never done well in them. Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia are all democracies thanks to the moderate versions of Islam practised there. I haven't read your post on Iraq and I'll need your help to find it!

  6. It's in last month's collection, the second from the bottom, entitled "The Disaster of Iraq". I have to go now!

  7. One more point. I assume you're not old enough to remember the 1980s. The Labour Party had been infiltrated by marxist groups such as Militant and there was a Tory group called the Monday Club which was every bit as xenephobic and racist as the BNP.

  8. Yes, I suppose there will always be fringes of one kind or another. I was in still in kindergarten at the turn of the decade!

  9. The Monday Club is still going strong, though the Conservatives were savvy enough to sever "official" links with them. I believe John Bercow, perhaps to be the next Speaker, used to be a member.

    I put the blame for the rise of the BNP (in reality Griffin's election was not a result of a rise in his popularity, but a decimation of support for the alternatives) squarely on the shoulders of both all three major parites. That neither the Conservatives nor Liberals were able to capitalise on the shambolic state of the Labour party speaks volumes about the disgust the electorate feels for our political establishment.

    If Cameron, Brown were truly sickened over this, then they would both resign - and force any MP who defrauded the British tax payer to do likewise. Once they put their House in order, the BNP's odious policies will take care of itself.

  10. What can I say, Rockpocket, other than I am in complete agreement. Thank you. :-)