That title may surprise some of you, but I’m serious. I plan on having one post, and one post only, on here about the election, at least up until election day itself. I have already had an intense two-month by-election campaign, and the prospect of another six weeks of politicking has made me feel near-suicidal. (And of course the fact that we still don’t know if the by-election will go ahead — meaning Jackie or whoever may be elected to a dissolved parliament and have to stand for re-election a month later — shows how much thought the Tories give to the North…) I may change my mind, of course, but the plan right now is that this is it.
And the atmosphere has become feral at the moment. Yesterday I saw the announcement of the General Election, went out and did a round of leafletting, and thought to myself “I’ll write a nice post about progressive tactical voting when I get back — with the Tories this bad everyone will at least come together and be sensible about minimising the damage”.
By the time I got back home, two Labour MPs had said they refused to back Corbyn as Prime Minister, Corbyn had called for mandatory reselection in the next few weeks, and everyone had decided that Tim Farron is an evil homophobe (as always, I take my views on LGBT stuff from people who will be affected by it. This statement by the chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems, who’s a friend, represents what the majority of LGBT+ people I know think of him. This, by Zoe O’Connell, another friend who’s one of the
threefour out trans people currently elected to office, adds to that. I don’t want to tell you you’re wrong if you think differently — I’m a cishet man who cannot and should not speak over LGBT+ people in this — but I know enough LGBT+ activists who think this way that it would take some strong evidence to convince me otherwise — I’m listening to them, because as a cishet man that’s all I should do).
Basically, everyone on the left and centre-left had turned into a circular firing squad determined to hand the Tories the biggest majority possible because of stupid fucking purity tests and narcissism-of-small-differences shit.
And I can’t take that kind of argument right now, at least not here. So I’m going to talk politics on Twitter, still, but after this one post I won’t be doing any political blogging until election day. (If nothing else, I don’t know if Patreon money for politics posts would count as campaign money or something like that, during an election period, so I’m not going to take that risk).
So here’s what I’ve got to say. Note that all members of political parties are banned from ever saying publicly that someone should vote for another party. So I’m not going to tell anyone to vote for anyone other than the Lib Dems.
But we live under a first-past-the post system, and as Al Ewing put it on Twitter today “I’m a single-issue voter. My single issue is reducing the Tory majority.”
I can largely agree with that. More precisely, I have three issues, in descending order of importance — stopping Brexit, getting a decent electoral system, and keeping the Tories out. I care about a *LOT* of other things, but those are the top three. Where I live, in Manchester Gorton, keeping the Tories out is not an issue, as FPTP stops them, so it’s down to the top two. Happily, Jackie Pearcey, the Lib Dem candidate, is on my side on both the top two and on a lot of other things.
Now, the important thing here is that the main reason the Tories won a majority at the last election is what’s called “tactical unwind” — people who had previously voted tactically going back to their party of choice. If in just *five* Tory/Lib Dem marginals Labour voters had voted tactically for the Lib Dem, the Tories wouldn’t have won a majority. I haven’t looked so closely at Lab/Con marginals to see if that’s true for non-tactical-voting Lib Dems, but I suspect it is.
Five seats. If 733 Lab voters in Eastbourne, 883 in Lewes, 1495 in Thornbury & Yate, 2017 in Twickenham, and 2834 in Kingston & Surbiton, had voted differently — 7,962 people, just 0.012% of the population — there’d have been no Tory majority in 2015, and none of the horrors of the last couple of years would have happened.
Which is not to blame those people. It’s the Lib Dems’ fault we didn’t persuade them. And as I said, there are undoubtedly a similar number of Lib Dem voters who could have swung Tory seats to Labour. We all do our best when voting to decide between a whole lot of factors, and no-one can predict the future. I’m just pointing out that under this stupid system, which I will do anything I can to change, tactical voting matters *a lot*.
So I’d suggest that anyone who wants to change things do something simple. Look at your constituency — not just last election, but the last two or three, because last time was an outlier in all sorts of weird ways — and see which candidates have a chance.
Then have a think about what issues matter to you, and where you rank all the parties — or local candidates if they differ from their party, because there are people in every party who somehow manage to disagree with it on every issue.
My ranking of the parties, for what it’s worth — based on the criteria I give above (stop Brexit, reform voting, not-a-Tory — the latter of which covers a lot of stuff about liberalism, the NHS, etc which I’d include separately if Brexit wasn’t such a massive issue, but all of which matter) goes:
1) Lib Dem
[3) If I were in Scotland or Wales: SNP/Plaid]
Then look down your ranked list til you hit the first candidate who has a chance in your constituency, and vote that way. Short of a ranked voting system, we have to act like we’ve already got one.
For me, that means voting in the General Election for Jackie Pearcey, because she’d be first on my list while Afzal Khan would be third. And in the Mayoral election, where we get to rank our top two, it means voting for Jane Brophy first and Will Patterson (the Green candidate) second (the Mayoral is purely on local issues, but my ranking comes out the same, because people who agree on stuff tend to agree on other stuff, which is why we have parties at all).
Now, I understand one final concern many Labour people might have about voting Lib Dem to keep Tories out, which is what happens if there’s a hung parliament? Will the Lib Dems go into coalition again?
Well, the thing is, it’s up to the party members. If a coalition is on offer, it requires a special conference and a two-thirds vote of the membership for the party to agree to it. Not the leader. Not the MPs. The whole membership (or that portion which can get to a special conference at short notice — a few thousand people, anyway).
Now, I can’t tell you for sure what the members would decide, and anyone who says they can is lying. If nothing else, we got something like ten thousand new members *yesterday*, and I have no idea what they think. But I discussed this a lot at conference last month, and the sentiment I got from everyone I talked to was the same: “the only way I’ll vote for a coalition again, with any party, is if the very first bill it passes is ‘revoke Article 50 and implement STV as the voting system for all future elections'”.
Even Nick Clegg — the single most right-wing current Lib Dem MP, and the most pro-Tory of all of them — was asked about it recently. The quote:
Clegg said it was “completely out of the question” for his party to enter a coalition with the Tory party because of hard Brexit, but suggested that a shift back to more tactical voting could provide a comeback for the left of British politics.
“If it becomes obvious next election that the overwhelming task is to destroy the Conservative government – that is umbilically linked to hard Brexit,” he said, then it would be “flamingly obvious” to Labour in the south-west that the Lib Dems had the best chance of victory and to Lib Dems in the north that Labour did.
He argued that the politicians who drove the decision to leave the EU had plans for mass deregulation after Brexit was complete.
Now, we will have a hard time getting rid of the Tories this election. They’re polling remarkably high. But national polls don’t predict local results. Parties of the left can, and should, be willing to fight each other where the Tories can’t win — I’m in Manchester, and I’m going to campaign for Jackie Pearcey where I live (and probably also for John Leech in the constituency next door) because she’d be better than the local Blairite Labourbot. And I don’t expect Labour to stop campaigning to defeat Jackie here either.
But the people who need defeating nationally are the Tories and those Labour MPs — the Kate Hoeys, Graham Stringers, and Gisela Stuarts — who would be at home in UKIP. There’s not enough time to arrange a proper progressive alliance, even if one were possible or desirable longer-term, but right now, we all need to think about how our local votes affect the bigger picture and act accordingly.
And that’s the last I’m planning to say on this blog about politics until June 8 (unless the Gorton by-election does go ahead, in which case there may be a celebratory or depressed post on May 5).