Behind the eggs and the Dangers of PR

June 11, 2009

Much as many of us might have enjoyed the spectacle of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party and one of its first two Euro-MPs, with egg on his face, this week’s mini-riot outside Parliament is not an example to be followed. It is bad enough that the racist party has gained respectability with its first parliamentary seats, not to mention a half-million pound boost to its coffers. The last thing anyone needs now is for Griffin and his cohorts to try to claim sympathy as the object of violent tactics. It is hard not to imagine that the party staged its press conference at the symbolic centre of British democracy without half-hoping that it might reap the publicity benefits of any attack. The BNP’s odious policies should be confronted at every turn — but within the bounds of public order. Griffin, of course, would never have been bound for Brussels if the vote for mainstream parties had not been so poor. The Board of Deputies should be commended for its campaign to encourage voters , fearing correctly that a low vote would benefit the BNP. Unfortunately, no one could have predicted the public disillusion that would follow from the MPs’ expense scandal. Let us hope the BNP’s electoral success is merely an aberration.

Meanwhile, the BNP’s election provides another cautionary tale. Its success in the European vote — as well as the success of other racist parties such as the neo-Nazi Jobbik Party in Hungary, which captured three seats — is owed, in no small measure, to the proportional representation system, which gives a voice to fringe parties. In Israel, parliament is so fragmented because of proportional representation that successive governments have effectively been paralysed by parties with negligible popular support. When Alan Johnson suggests importing this system to Britain, for a “genuinely radically alternative”, is this really what he wants?

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010