Is the BNP rise overstated?

Is the BNP rise overstated?

William Hill Politics

What sort of regional vote shares would they need?

Much has been made of the rise of the BNP, and their chances of winning seats in the European Parliament. We’ve seen some commentators notice that Labour’s PEB is no longer a beacon of multi-culturalism, and others decide to start anti-BNP campaigns. Whilst the issue of immigration and race relations has fallen off as fear about the Economy and Crime has grown, there can be no doubt that the expenses scandal fuels all minor parties, especially those that pitch for the anti-politics vote.

    And yet, with all these factors given full regard, I remain sceptical that the BNP will actually manage to get a seat. Though the UK doesn’t operate a vote threshold (some countries insist on 5% nationally before you can qualify for a seat), we are one of the few countries not to have a single national constituency. The regional structure of the UK (especially the inequal size of regions) makes it harder for smaller parties to win seats.

For example, in the South East region there are 10 seats, so a seat can be won with less than 10% of the vote (crudely, imagine the winning party got 35%, second place got 28%, third place 20% – they would get 4 seats, 3 seats and 2 seats respectively, allowing the party with 7% to get the last seat*). However, of the 69 seats in 11 regions of Great Britain (the 3 seats in the region of Northern Ireland are allocated by Single Transferable Vote), only one region has as many as 10 seats (the South East). 2 regions have 8 seats (London and the North West), 1 region has 7 seats (East of England), and all other regions have 6 or fewer seats. The North East has only 3 seats, meaning that a party would need over 25% (at least practically – the *mathematical* minimum with 12 parties standing is a mere 7.2%) to stand a chance of winning a seat.

And therein lies the challenge for the BNP. Their performance at the last European elections saw them get 4.9% nationally, with just over 800,000 votes. They did worst in Scotland (1.7%) and Wales (3.0%), with the following regions also below their national average: SE (2.9%), SW (3.0%), London (4.0%), and East of England (4.3%). The 5 regions which inflated the national vote share for the BNP were: NE (6.4%), NW (6.4%), East Mids (6.5%), West Mids (7.5%), Yorks & Humber (8.0%).

With the exception of the North West, all of the BNPs vote-share-increasing regions have 6 seats or fewer. The larger regions, where it is easier for minor parties to get seats, tend to be vote-share-diluting for the BNP. If 8-10% are practically needed to win an MEP in the ‘easiest regions’ of London and the South East, then it will be on the back of a national vote share that is likely between 12-15%, which I don’t think is likely. Unless they are capable of (eg) trebling their 2004 national vote share to 15%, they will not win seats in regions with 6 MEPs or fewer, yet they are equally unlikely to win in the East of England, London, or South East given that they underperform their national average in these larger regions.

    The only region I can see them getting an MEP with less than 13-15% of the national vote is in the North West region, where party leader Nick Griffin heads their list. It took UKIP getting 11.7% to get the last MEP in the North West in 2004, when there were nine MEPs rather than the eight who will be elected in June. Essentially, I suspect the BNP need to get between 12-14% in the North West to get their leader elected, which implies a national vote share of around 10% (double 2004).

For that reason, I think the 1/5 on them getting an MEP is poor value (I’d have said closer to 4/6), but I would be very confident that they will not win more than 1 MEP, unless they manage to score 13-15% or better nationally. Is that possible? I’m sceptical.

Last time, the main three parties plus UKIP managed about 80%. BNP/Respect/Greens about 12.5%, and other nationalists (SNP, PC, English Dems) about 3.5%. 4% went to a smattering of minor parties such as the parties representing the elderly, peace, or various Christian denominations.

The minor parties (including new entrants) are better funded this time around – Libertas, Jury Team and No2EU all have financial backing, which will bolster that 4% if not increase it by a point or at the expense of the major parties. The nationalists of Scotland, England and Wales should see a slight increase too, again from the major parties. The Green Party I think might have suffered since Cameron’s conversion to affairs environmental, but the shift away from ecologism back towards concern for the economy preserves their USP. So where do the BNP carve out their 10% (to get Nick Griffin elected in the North West) let alone the 13-15% nationally I estimate would be needed for further gains?

Unless there is significant minor party squeeze (which I think unlikely), if you think the Conservatives plus UKIP must be around 42% between them (the sum of what they should expect at Westminster election, but allowing for significant movement across that line in European elections), then we are looking at how much of the remaining 36% that Labour and the Lib Dems are sharing is susceptible to being taken by the BNP. Labour might be odds on to get less than 20%, but could they really fall below 18%?

The latest poll indicates that the Big Four will get 85% between them – I think that’s overstated, but I can’t see them getting less than 75% between them. If nationalists get 5%, Greens 5%, and 5% to the minor parties, that leaves 10% at best for the BNP.

The key for the BNP is turnout – if it is very low (below 35%) then anything is possible, especially for a party that has a higher proportion of door-knocking footsoldiers than most other parties. However, 4 of the 5 regions that inflated the BNP national vote share in 2004 were all-postal voting, implying that they might have found it easier to garner votes where posting was required rather than physically getting people out to the ballot box.

I have no doubt that the BNP will do better than in 2004, but I think the idea of them getting several MEPs is fanciful. They may well get one in the North West, but even that is far from certain at this stage. There is almost certainly a spiral of silence in the polls, but even allowing for that, I think the rise of the BNP is somewhat overstated.


*Example updated with correct vote shares – many thanks to Mike Wood, and his D’Hondt expertise!

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