Billy Bragg joined forces with black activist Simon Woolley on 13 April 2011 to launch a new anti-BNP poster for the 'Yes to AV' campaign in the forthcoming voting reform referendum.
Woolley is director of Operation Black Vote, which exists to work for racial justice and equality throughout the UK, especially through the political system. Bragg is a musician and anti-fascism campaigner.
The 'Yes to Fairer Votes' campaign poster asks of British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin, "Why does he want you to vote no?" It says: "Because he knows AV will hurt the BNP. Say no to the BNP, say yes on 5th May".
Billy Bragg explained: “What really stinks is that the No’s just won’t run an honest campaign. We’ve heard a lot of nonsense from them on the BNP, so we’re setting the record straight. AV would hurt the BNP, and that’s why they’re fighting for a no vote.”
Simon Woolley, who is also Yes campaign vice-chair added: “This should kill the myths and half-truths peddled about the Alternative Vote and the BNP. A fairer democracy demands we say yes to AV”.
People of different faiths and none have united behind 'Yes to Fairer Votes', after anti-AV campaigners claimed voting reform would encourage extremists.
In fact, AV would require all candidates to aim for 50 per cent support – shutting the door on extremists – say proponents of switching from first-past-the-post to Alternative Vote.
Leading pollster Peter Kellner has described AV as “the most extremist-proof of all electoral systems.”
A recent report by the IPPR highlighted the correlation between support for the BNP and areas where people are politically disengaged. The BNP, they suggested, fed off a sense of powerlessness and alienation - something which AV seeks to address. Other studies have also suggested the BNP will suffer under AV.
A study by the Electoral Reform Society in Burnley in 2004, where the BNP gained eight council seats under First Past the Post, found that only very small numbers of supporters of other parties would give their second or third preferences to the BNP. It also suggested that the BNP would have won no council seats, rather than eight if the AV system had been used in the 2003 council elections.
'No' campaigner Baroness Warsi has been widely criticised after she suggested that the BNP and racists would benefit from AV, because other candidates would court their voters in order to secure their second or third preferences.
In fact, Warsi has herself put out an election leaflet in the past implying that BNP voters would be better voting Conservative than Labour to oppose "more political correctness and uncontrolled immigration and asylum".
Moreover, point out 'Yes' campaigners, the issue is not how many preferences minority candidates get, but how effective they are - or in the case of most BNP ones, ineffective.
'Yes' supporter Leon Green says on the Operation Black Vote website: "I can't see how AV would give BNP voters more influence in marginal seats, as no self-respecting Tory, Labour or Green voter would give the BNP their second or third prefrence votes. In reverse, I doubt many BNP voters would vote for Labour, LibDems or the Greens either.
"The point is clear: the BNP are against AV because they know full well it will damage their electoral prospects. If AV had any benefit for them they'd be out campaigning for a 'Yes' vote. To claim otherwise is misguided."
Meanwhile, independent television company Channel 4's 'FactCheck' service has concluded: "AV is highly unlikely to help the BNP win any seats, and the secondary votes of BNP supporters alone wouldn’t swing a seat for any other party – going on last year’s results.
"In fact, in a very divided constituency, the BNP arguably has a better chance of winning a seat under First Past the Post than under AV", says researcher Emma Thelwell.
“AV is a retrograde step – it’s worse than what we’ve got now,” the BNP's Simon Darby told FactCheck. “We are never going to get our feet under the table under the AV system.”
* Operation Black Vote: http://www.obv.org.uk/
* Channel 4 FactCheck, 'Would AV help or hinder the BNP?' - http://tinyurl.com/6x9gyyh