Wednesday, 19 April 2017
Will June’s General Election see a return to Tactical Voting?
In calling a snap general election, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is clearly hoping to strengthen her position as Tory party leader and Prime Minister. The opinion polls suggest that she will increase her majority of MPs in Parliament, and she wouldn’t have called the election otherwise. It does look as though the Tories will win big, but there is, probably, just one hope for anti-Tory, anti-hard Brexit voters.
A formal alliance of parties to the left of the Tories is a non-starter, in England anyway, as Labour has ruled out working with any other party, and the Lib Dems have ruled out working with Labour. There may be some local deals, which will involve Greens not standing in some constituencies, in favour of Labour or Lib Dems, but that is far as it is likely to go. This will not be enough to defeat the Tories, but there is one other possibility.
Tactical voting became fashionable in the 1990s, as a way to defeat the Tories. It came from the voters themselves, as the Lib Dems and Labour did not publicly advocate it, but voters worked this out for themselves.
How it worked was like this. Labour and Lib Dem voters looked at previous results and chose to back whichever of Labour or Lib Dems was best placed to beat the Tory candidate. It was very successful, and in the 1997 general election the Tories were reduced from a party of government to a party with less than 200 seats in Parliament.
The Lib Dems benefited from this by increasing their numbers of seats, but Labour were helped to a landslide victory, too. Even Tony Blair’s centrist (ring wing if you like) Labour were unable to beat the Tories in some areas, mainly in the south of England, but the Lib Dems did beat them. There was a time when there might have been a coalition government between Labour and the Lib Dems, but with Labour winning so big in 1997, the idea was dropped (by Labour).
The Lib Dems ruined all of this by entering into a coalition government with the Tories in 2010. In 2015 the Lib Dems were reduced from 57 MPs to just 8. What I think happened in large part was that Labour leaning voters, saw that voting Lib Dem did not keep the Tories out, as we ended up with a Tory led coalition, propped up by the Lib Dems.
Labour supporting voters, who had tactically supported the Lib Dems as best placed to beat the Tories, withdrew their support for the Lib Dems, understandably, and returned to voting Labour, or perhaps moved onto the Greens instead, or didn’t bother voting at all.
But I just wonder whether tactical voting will make a return now. The general election on 8 June is a special election, which will be dominated by the issue of Brexit. Around 70% of Labour voters voted to remain in the European Union (EU), and at the very least will be appalled by Theresa May’s hard Brexit strategy, even if they don’t want to overturn the referendum result entirely. Might these voters be tempted to vote tactically to get a softer Brexit? I think many of them will.
Lib Dem voters may be more reluctant to support Corbyn’s Labour, but the chance of Labour forming a government after the election are remote indeed. What a tactical voting approach on the leftish of UK politics might achieve though, is to remove the Tories overall majority. This would undoubtedly be the end for May as Prime Minister, and even if the Lib Dems entered another coalition with the Tories, they could influence the type of Brexit that would be pursued by the new coalition government. If the Lib Dems were wise they wouldn’t enter into another coalition with the Tories, but would support them on certain issues, and Brexit could be fashioned in a less reckless manner than what we appear to be on course for now.
For the Green Party, local parties might want to consider whether to even stand in some constituencies, to give this process a little help. I think they should at least think about it. And pro EU voters should familiarise themselves with the results of the last couple of elections where they live, to see who might beat the Tory candidate.
If this doesn’t happen, I fear an authoritarian Tory government, hell bent on a reckless Brexit and privatising the NHS, and generally finishing off the public sector, more benefit cuts and with massive tax cuts for big corporations and wealthy individuals.
Anything would be better than this, surely?