Hate Not Hope?
In less than 12 hours, polling will open in the elections to the European Parliament, and aside from the various leaflets through the door, the main interaction I’ve had with campaigners has been on my commute, with Hope Not Hate handing out leaflets at Manchester Victoria yesterday morning, and newspapers outside Wigan Wallgate this evening. Their campaign, at least in the North West, is driven towards seeing Nick Griffin lose his seat in the European Parliament, with the secondary aim of limiting UKIP’s likely gains.
But for me, this poses a problem: with the exception of the Single Transferable Vote used to elect Scotland’s councillors and all of Northern Ireland’s elected representatives with the obvious exception of its MPs, where voters can deny candidates they find particularly abhorrent any preference at all, the electoral systems used in the UK offer no real mechanism to vote against someone, only for them. A vote for Party X is exactly that: one vote for Party X. It is not possible to cast minus one vote for Party Y. Bearing this in mind, I am forced to ask the question: what constructive role can Hope Not Hate possibly play in a campaign?
Hope Not Hate are campaigning for your support, but you will not find them on a ballot paper as they are not a party. Nor are they opting to endorse a party. There is an instruction offered – vote to kick the extremists out – but no guide as to how to do that. And tactical voting in a European election fought on the D’Hondt Formula is a messy business. So again, I have to ask: what constructive role can Hope Not Hate possibly play in a campaign?
Simply attacking UKIP or the BNP is not enough. Simply branding them racist is not enough. Simply not being them is not enough. Hope Not Hate are, ironically, offering plenty of hate for the BNP and UKIP, but they’re not in any position to present an alternative, so offer no hope. They are the reverse of what they claim.
Besides, with the major parties accepting the UKIP/BNP premise that immigration is bad, with a discredited Nick Clegg the only politician to make a fist of defending Europe (the Tories want to offer us either less Europe or no Europe, while Labour have spent the European election campaign talking about everything but Europe and European policy), only to fail to either restore his 2010 magic or even stall the Nigel Farage bandwagon in televised debates, and with the Big Three Westminster parties offering nothing more than to tinker around the edges of a tired status quo, unsatisfactory for many, it’s little wonder that people do listen to the extremists.
Are the voters racist? Maybe, but not necessarily. Are they xenophobic? Maybe, but not necessarily. Is their support a last-gasp action by straight white guys to preserve their privileges in society? Most of the straight white guys who might vote for the BNP or UKIP in areas like the North West weren’t particularly privileged to begin with: Labour took their vote as a given so shifted their policies to cater for the marginals in the South East; the Tories wrote it off, so shifted their policies to defend the marginals; and the LibDems might turn up if they’d come second in the previous election, proffering bar charts with an odd scale on the Y-axis rather than concrete policies as a justification for supporting them. So when, for the first time in a generation, someone wearing a rosette turns up and says, “I’ll sort things out,” while the mainstream parties refuse to even stand in the same room as them where so as to at least challenge their policies, it’s hard not to be tempted.
We shouldn’t need Hope Not Hate. We shouldn’t have anyone telling us how not to vote. We should have parties that have been there from the start, working in all our communities, engaging with the people, making a real effort to make their lives better, and presenting ideas for real change when it’s needed.
Hope Not Hate have been around for ten years. Why did I not see their campaigners when we all – whatever our background – needed more affordable housing? Or when we all needed more and better paid jobs? Our when our public services were being cut? Why, after ten years, have I only seen the Hope Not Hate banner when they needed us to do (or rather, not to do) something, and not at any point when they could have put their name to (or even been the ones to organise) campaigns which would have delivered hope and neutralised the extremists?
In short: what constructive role can Hope Not Hate possibly play in a campaign?