18 April 2014

The Left Unity Endorsement and Why it Matters (Technical Explanation)

[While I'm posting this today, it was written for yesterday. We will celebrate Easter and I'll take my children to church on Sunday, but with the very urgent time constraints, I'm publishing today after running out of time last night to get everything done]

This post is divided into two parts. The first one is a bit mathematical and is there to explain how the D'Hondt system works in allocating the seats. The second bit is more analysis based. Bear with me if maths isn't your thing (skip to the next bold section)! Essentially this is a post about what happens when people vote for parties that don't have any real chance of winning a seat.

So far in the North West, we may well see the following smaller parties (Greens, UKIP and BNP all won seats in the 2009 Euros so are not defined as smaller) standing a list:

- English Democrats
- Socialist Labour Party
- Pirate Party
- Britain First
- Christian Party
- Socialist Equality Party
- Independent (or 2)

Now imagine that each one of these parties was to hold their deposit. That would be a combined 20% (2.5% x 8) of the vote, with the six parties with a realistic prospect of winning a seat, sharing the other 80% between them. So let's run a possible result:

Labour 25%
UKIP 19%
Tories 18%
BNP 6.5%
Green 6.5%
Lib Dems 5%

In this extreme version (made to illustrate the point), it becomes mathematically possible for the BNP and Nick Griffin to retain their seat in the European Parliament with as little as 6.5% of the vote, but only if they finish ahead of the Greens and Lib Dems.

In 2009 none of the smaller parties (including some listed above) who stood managed to hold their deposit. The total vote for these small parties was just over 8%. That meant that the 91%+ of the vote shared between the biggest six parties meant that the threshold to win the last seat was 8%.

The general principle we can establish is that lots of smaller parties standing in a Euro region will make it easier for one of the larger parties (including the Greens, the BNP and UKIP) to win seats. That is a crucial point.

You might ask what the problem is from a Green perspective? Clearly it is in our interests if other parties fork out a £5000 regional deposit and stand as many Euro lists as possible if it makes it easier for us to win! Well it's of course more complicated than that. The voters that would choose to vote for the Socialist Equality Party, for instance, may be few in number. Some would not vote at all if the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) did not stand, but many will be making their decision on the basis of the ballot paper. Their first preference would be the SEP but if they were not on the ballot paper they would still vote. Where would those votes go?

Left Unity, if they had chosen to stood, would probably have done better than NO2EU and the other socialist groups. Despite only being launched a few months ago, they would have potentially been able to save their deposit and begin to build their political party. However, they've made a regional decision that there is a more important priority at this election, which is to ensure Nick Griffin and the BNP lose their last foothold in British politics. More than that, they have specifically suggested how those potential supporters of Left Unity should vote.

By not standing they raise the bar for the Greens, the BNP and the Lib Dems in the contest for the final regional seat. However by directing their supporters towards the Greens, they are making our chances of winning a seat much better. If the share of the vote for smaller parties is similar to last time, then between 7.8 and 8.6% will be enough for us to win the North West seat. The most recent ICM poll had us neck and neck nationally with the Liberal Democrats (despite very little coverage for the Greens) and ahead of both the Lib Dems and the BNP in the "North" regional breakdown.

Finally, the decision by Left Unity recognises the lessons that the Greens and other left of Labour parties should have learned from the results in the North West in 2009. The Socialist Labour Party and NO2EU gained 3% between them in that election. The BNP beat the Greens by just 0.3% - it's not unreasonable to say that in hindsight, had NO2EU and/or the SLP not stood, or even directed their supporters to back the Greens, Griffin would never have been an MEP.

There is no criticism of NO2EU and SLP in respect of 2009. They chose to stand as did we. Once the nominations were in, it was up to the parties to campaign to get the best vote possible. However, nominations for 2014 have not closed yet. The leaders, both regionally and nationally, of smaller parties on the left are making an active decision to spend at least £5000 of member/supporter money. If they do stand again, and we end up seeing a rerun of 2009, then ignorance of the mechanics of the election will not be an excuse.

So thank you again to Left Unity for not standing and actively endorsing the Green Party - you have demonstrated in a single action that Left Unity will live up to its name and do things very differently.

If you didn't like the maths bit, here is the second bit, which summarises the key points:

- Some votes are more valuable than others if you are voting against the BNP (in 2009 a single vote for the Greens was worth 6 extra votes for Labour)

- If you are intending to vote NO2EU, SLP or SEP in 2014 and you want your vote to count against the BNP, then I'm sorry, it won't. That isn't the fault of the Greens or Labour, but it is the electoral system that is proportional, but doesn't allow for preferences

- If you are organising the NO2EU, SLP or SEP list in the North West, the effect of your party standing is to lower the threshold vote and make it easier for the Greens, Lib Dems or the BNP to win the final seat

So with just a week to go until the close of nominations, I can say that efforts have been made on our behalf by the respected Trade Unionist, Alec McFadden (who stood as a NO2EU candidate in 2009), to contact and discuss these issues with NO2EU. We have clearly had discussions with Left Unity, that have been positive, and we are in ongoing discussions with other parties and independents. Our door, and my door in particular, is open to co-operation on common issues and particularly anti-racist campaigning. Attempts have been made to rewrite history from 2009. Our door was open then too, and we had endorsements from outside the party in that election too. It's my hope that we minimise the possibility of the BNP making a polling day recovery (in the event of a controversial media story) and ensure that we elect a Green and not Griffin.

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