Watching from the sidelines up here in Cambridge, I, and I’m sure many other Lib Dems, and indeed supporters of anyone other than Ken or Boris, am asking myself one question whenever I see polls coming out of London: Why, in one of the few places in England where voters are not completely wedded to tactical voting, is the vote for parties other than the biggest two not larger?
I know it’s what Lib Dems would say in this situation, but in this case, I’m pretty sure it’s true: Londoners are tired of Ken, and they aren’t sure they want Boris in charge of the multimillion pound budget of the London mayor. So why can’t Brian, Sian, Gerard, Lindsey, Winston, Matt, Richard or Alan get more traction? In some of their cases (*cough* BNP *cough*), it is because they are awful, awful people. But that doesn’t get proponents of more proportional (and yes, I know, that’s questionable here, but never mind, if you don’t like the word proportional then try expressive – after all, voters are at the very least being given a greater opportunity to express an opinion) voting sytems off the hook. Why, under London’s voting system, do we see such a rush for the two biggest candidates?
It is tempting to answer that the reason is simply name recognition. This is undoubtedly a factor; in 2004 and 2000 there was not quite the same polarisation as we are seeing in polls now. But nonetheless, the assembly voting numbers for 2004 and 2000 do seem to show that Lib Dem support (and indeed other party support) is generally unrepresented in mayoral voting. So why is this? Is it the sheer weight of recognition value for the biggest candidates (almost invariably only achieving that status because the media have anointed them as such)? Maybe, but I doubt it.
Every mayoral election the results show that people are using their second choice votes to vote with their cosciences, and their first choice votes to vote tactically – which is, of course, the wrong way round. It is no use to UKIP, or the the Lib Dems, or to the Greens, to get a second choice vote, and you aren’t helping them one jot giving it to them. I’m fairly sure that many, many people aren’t quite grasping this, and I think it’s about time we, and the small parties, from the Greens on downwards, got together to ram home this point.
It’s tempting to say that Brian Paddick should be devoting his campainging and leafletting to explaining the voting system, since this is the one thing most likely to drive up his vote. But really, this isn’t a Lib Dem issue, it’s bigger than that. If London is to have an SV system for its mayoral elections, people need to know that that’s what they have, and they need to realise the implications of it. I’m not at all sure they do right now, and it would do everyone except the media, Ken and Boris, a huge favour for all the “outsider” parties (and Brian!) to make a big noise about it right about now.