Today – this article only for the Blog.
Boris makes the proposition that the electoral system is biased towards Labour and that:
the awful truth is that the difference between GB and Zimbabwe is not as big as it should be
ZIMBABWE / GB : FORMER BREADBASKETS?
You know I hesitate to assist the mad old tyrant Robert Mugabe, and I only mention this idea because I am sure he has thought of it already. There he is in Harare, luxuriating in another infamous violation of democracy. By force and threats his Zanu-PF thugs have kept thousands from the polls. Pro-Mugabe ballot papers have been magicked into existence, while opposition threats have been systematically destroyed.
To believe that last week’s elections were free and fair, you have to believe that the people of Zimbabwe are so in love with Mugabe’s policies of chronic inflation and mass starvation that they could think of nothing finer than to give him another five years. The elections were a sham and a fraud. They have been denounced around the world; and that is why, if I were Mugabe, I think I would embark on the following entirely cynical wheeze. I would make a long speech on that very subject; I would harp on about the disaster of electoral corruption, and the eating away of voter confidence in democracy. Then, with a flourish, I would announce that I was sending a team of election monitors to – you guessed it – Birmingham, England. Can you imagine the scenes? The Zanu-PF henchmen would tool around in their Mercs, pompously demanding to interrogate our returning officers, and invoking UN codes on the sanctity of ballot boxes. They would give long-faced press conferences and wring their hands on the steps of Birmingham town hall. Back in Harare, Mugabe would pick up on their findings, renew his hysterical assaults on the Blair government (which he has already denounced, you may remember, as a bunch of “homosexual gangsters”), and urge his election monitors to redouble their efforts.
And how, in the current circumstances, could we reasonably deny them? We say that there was scandalous ballot-stuffing in Zimbabwe, where opposition election officials were brutally kicked out of polling stations, and where voting was mysteriously closed down early in pro-opposition areas. For instance, in the Kariba district it was initially announced that 16,676 had cast their vote. Then the votes were counted according to party preference. Hmmm. Long pause. Sorr-eee! said the Zanu-PF election officials: actually there were 13,719 Zanu-PF votes, and 9,540 votes for the Movement for Democratic Change. In other words, an extra 7,466 new votes had somehow turned up from nowhere. We in the west say that the whole thing was a fix. At which the Zanu-PF election monitors in Birmingham would feign outrage. A fix! they would say, taking off their shades for extra sincerity. Who are you to call us corrupt? Talk about pots and kettles, they would say. This is just the kind of racist bias we expect old imperial power, they would say, and they would point to the amazing way in which the British postal ballot system has been perverted.
And we have to admit that they have plenty of evidence to back up their case. Thousands of ballot papers were nicked, amid scenes of police apathy and general official shambles that belonged, indeed, in Matabeleland. According to Richard Mawrey QC, who presided over the Birmingham inquiry, the entire system is an invitation to fraud and redolent of a “banana republic”. Mr Mawrey is a brave and good man, and we must hope that his legal career is not jeopardised by his willingness to speak out. And he also, alas, provides Robert Mugabe with the perfect rhetorical opportunity. If I were Mugabe, I would hail Mawrey as a kind of martyr for truth, a lone judicial opponent of political corruption, and I would instruct my British monitoring team to stay for the whole month of the election campaign. That is because if he wants to find evidence of the outrageous pro-government bias of the electoral system, it is there in spades.
We complain that the Zimbabwean system is designed to favour Zanu-PF, not least since Mugabe can pick 30 MPs himself. But look at the way the British system currently favours Labour. We have just started a truly exciting general election campaign. We Tories believe that we deserve to win, and that we could win. We leave parliament today, and hit the campaign trail, with our danders up, our peckers up, and our tails up, if that is anatomically possible. The polls are now putting us level pegging, if not better, with Labour. But consider how the system is skewed against us. Even if we both score 34 per cent in the final shoot-out, Labour would be left with an incredible 142 MORE seats than the Tories, and Mr Blair would still have a majority of 40 over all other parties. Even if Labour and the Tories score 36 per cent apiece, Blair still has a majority of 52 seats. In order to secure a majority of just one seat in the Commons, the Tories would need a lead of about ten percentage points. I am not saying that is impossible; but it means overcoming the kind of ludicrous unfairness that is familiar to the Zimbabwean opposition. How has this happened? There are several reasons, but the most shocking is the way Labour-held seats in the north, and especially in Scotland, have been allowed to shrink and shrink in population, while Tory seats have grown ever more populous. The electorate in Tory seats averages 72,000, with fewer than 66,000 in Labour seats. If the Tories and Labour both achieved 34 per cent, the average Tory MP would have 22,000 votes, while the average Labour MP would have 16,000 votes.
This nonsense cannot go on. if Labour is re-elected, it will be with the help of one of the most gerrymandered systems in the western world. It is time for a Great Reform Act, to redraw the boundaries and clear away Labour’s rotten boroughs. The more you study the position, the clearer it is why Jack Straw has been so muted – compared, say, to Washington – in his criticism of the Zimbabwe polls. The awful truth is that the difference between us is not as big as it should be.