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Abstaining for the BNP

by Ben Pitcher
16 May 2009 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: General Issue [7] | Commons

Here in Britain, the widespread scandal of MPs fiddling their expenses looks like it’s going to play a significant role in determining voter behaviour in the European and local government elections on June 4.

It is, of course, important to be reminding those tempted to register their protest at fraud and deception by voting for the BNP that its party members and activists are no stranger to these issues themselves (nor, it must be said, to racial hatred, arson, assault, murder, etc.).

The real concern though, as many commentators have suggested, does not lie with those fooled into voting for the BNP, but in the possibility that a low turnout on June 4 will by default deliver victories to the party. Not only does the BNP look capable of shoring up its presence in local councils, but it stands on the brink of winning at least one seat in the European Parliament (something it very nearly achieved in 2004), with the attendant exposure, funding and increased legitimacy that this will bring with it.

It is in this context that the June 4 elections present UK voters with a very clear choice. It is not only those voting for the BNP who will play a part in their success, but also those choosing for whatever reason not to. Conversely, votes for any other party work proportionally as votes against the BNP. (There are still a couple of days left for anyone not registered to do so. Follow this link to find out how.)

There will remain those who will consider (whether in light of recent events or in relation to more longstanding issues) that an abstention is an honourable means of protesting the current status quo, and that to cast a vote is just to prop up a political system that is in dire need of a total overhaul.

However much sympathy we might have with this point of view, it’s worth pointing out that what happens on June 4 has got very little to do with intentionality. Whatever abstaining voters think they are doing, they will, whether they like it or not, be doing the BNP a favour.

Of all the days there are to register a protest, June 4 2009 is therefore not going to be one of them. There are many days after the European and council elections to help build a better alternative to current political orthodoxies, and those for whom casting a vote sticks in the craw should consider applying themselves to this task, rather than sitting at home and letting the BNP win.

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Ben Pitcher writes about race, politics and popular culture. He teaches sociology at the University of Westminster, UK.
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