I have to vote tactically…

December 9th, 2019
by Chris

I am going to do something this week I swore I wouldn’t do many years ago.

I joined the Liberal Party when I was 15, actually as a result of reading the manifestoes of the various parties at the time and deciding that the Liberals had ideas I could get behind, which was prompted by my school holding a mock election, in which I stood for the Liberals and, to much surprise, won. When I left University and returned to my home town, I became active in local politics as a Liberal; the SDP came along, and the Liberal-SDP Alliance, and I got elected to a local council seat at a by-election, which I managed to hang on to through four elections. That was one of the few times when I voted for someone not from my own party – they were from the SDP, and he got elected too;  there were vacancies at Town and District level, and he got District, but only served one full term. I won the seat at District level the next time… It was also one of three times I have voted for someone other than myself who has won (one of the others was when, for one term, my running mate from the LibDems was also elected).

The two parties merged, becoming the Liberal Democrats, and from the 1970s to the early 2000s, that was the way I voted, and that was the party I paid a subscription to. In conscience, I only let the subscription lapse because I couldn’t afford it in 2005 onwards, but I was hugely disappointed by Nick Clegg’s coalition with the Tories from 2010. I really couldn’t see any sensible identity of interest between the Liberals I knew and Cameron’s Tories, and my worst fears were confirmed when none of the policies the LibDems wanted actually happened (and Clegg’s pledge on University tuition was broken), apart, that is, from the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. In 2015, the Tories selectively targeted LibDem seats pretty much on the basis that if you were going to vote LibDem you were going to vote for them anyway, and were talking to LibDem voters who were as disappointed as I was…

Throughout the 50 years since that school mock election, I have railed against a phenomenon I have seen time and time again when canvassing; people said they would like to vote LibDem, but they didn’t stand a chance of being elected (and yes, they said that to me when I was a sitting councillor and clearly HAD been elected previously) and, when quizzed how they were likely to vote, generally said that they would vote X because otherwise Y might get in (the X and Y could be Labour or Conservative interchangeably). I’d estimate that at least 50% of people were claiming they were voting the way they did as a negative vote, i.e. not because they liked the party they were voting for, but because they hated or feared “the other” party.

That is, of course, what “first past the post” voting gives you – a system in which you vote against people and policies, rather than for them. I vowed that I would not fall into that trap, and would always vote positively…

Incidentally, my preferred voting system is single transferrable vote – you rank candidates in order of preference, and the one with least first preference votes is eliminated and their second preferences are counted, and so on until someone has an absolute majority. This is not a proportional representation system, as such, although it does yield far more proportional results than first past the post (in which a party with 34% of the votes cast can get a really solid majority, almost a landslide, given that there are quite a few minor parties on our ballot papers). However, it allows you to vote positively rather than negatively, it does elect people who have the support of over 50% of the voters, even if some of those are second or third preferences, and it allows you to vote for an individual to represent you, not just a party, and that can include independents, who I think are in general a good idea.

As another aside, the other time when I voted for someone other than myself who won was in the Euro elections earlier this year – I voted LibDem, and due to us having a regional list system for Euro elections (mandated by the EU), we did elect one LibDem MEP, together with one Labour, one Green and (to my shame) three Brexit MEPs. I don’t like regional list particularly – it gives a lot of power to the political parties (who choose the order in which their candidates get elected, so you can’t necessarily vote for an individual) and it tends to eliminate individuals, who typically can’t get on the ballot paper at all, having no national or at least regional party behind them (there’s usually a cut-off for the size of parties), but on that occasion is did give me a positive vote which counted.

However, this election I am going to break the vow I made to myself. I’m going to vote negatively, against the sitting Conservative MP, and while I’d have naturally gone back to my allegiance of 50 years, the LibDem candidate doesn’t stand a chance of unseating the current MP, and the Labour candidate just might (the constituency was actually held by Labour from 1997 to 2005, but then had its boundaries radically altered which favoured the Conservatives a lot). I think this particular election is so important that I’m prepared to do this, against my better principles. Might I have voted Labour anyhow, given that the more I read the gospels, the more I think that Jesus would have thoroughly approved socialism, and I flatly disbelieve most of the tales peddled by the media about Corbyn (including that which has been picked up and repeated by the Chief Rabbi)? Possibly, though I still have some reservations about the good sense of Labour elected representatives, and I prefer the LibDem approach to Brexit, which is just to cancel it, while being disappointed by Corbyn’s equivocal stance on it – and read below…

Firstly, Brexit must be either stopped or a FAR better trade deal than the one which Boris’ agreement signposts must be available. There is a huge chance that Boris’ deal won’t go through anyhow, and we will be left with a “no deal” Brexit, and I am absolutely convinced that this would damage the country’s industry and its finances for many, many years – and in either case, we would be left having to negotiate a trade deal with the US, whose basic negotiating posture is that US companies should have access to everything (including the NHS) and that they should also be able to sue the government if it legislates in a way which might damage their profits, such as environmental legislation, food and trading standards, animal welfare and potentially employment security (look at TTIP if you doubt this). Corbyn might manage to negotiate something like a “Norway” deal, which is something I could live with… and he will give us a say again in a referendum.

That, however, is not all. Unless a very beneficial form of Brexit, i.e. something like Norway’s arrangement  (which, incidentally, includes most of the things people have complained about with membership of the EU, but without any representation or veto over the rules they are subject to), can be reached, the spending plans of either Labour or the Conservatives are going to be impossible to meet, and while I’m pretty sure Labour will at least try, the Conservatives are the ones who have imposed austerity over the last 15 years and crippled services in the process. The NHS, social care, police, education, libraries… the list is endless. The chances of them turning over a new leaf if, as all reputable economic sources indicate, we have far less money to spend following Brexit are, I think, zero. They also propose to demolish human rights legislation, taking us out of the European Convention on Human Rights, and their manifesto includes pledges to stop the courts having power over administrative decisions and to remove the power of parliament to bring a government to account. And, of course, their whole campaign has been lies piled upon lies. They absolutely cannot be trusted to run the country – I wouldn’t let them run a local cricket club…

The result would be a government which gets elected at a time chosen by the previous government (the Fixed Term Parliaments Act is to go) and then is responsible to no-one – not parliament, not the courts and certainly not the public – until it decides it’s time to have another election, hopefully still with 5 years as a longstop. With no checks and balances on them, I think the term “elective dictatorship” is not too strong.

I put Brexit first because I doubt that the negative effects will be able to be reversed at all easily – and some of them won’t be reversible. Even if we were to apply for membership again after a few years lapse, it is beyond belief that we would get as good a deal as we have now, with multiple derogations from various EU programmes (including Schengen and the Euro) and a substantial rebate on the cost. Maybe a TTIP-style trade deal with the US which was forced on us could be rescinded, but I think the fallout from that would be very nasty, and a lot of the damage (for instance to the NHS) might not be repairable; the likely environmental damage almost certainly wouldn’t be. I also fear that the effects would be so unpleasant (think food and medicine shortages, for instance) that the people would not wait for another election to take action, and I am very much opposed to revolutions…

Yes, a Tory government for 5 years would be a very nasty thing in and of itself, but assuming that we did manage to avoid a revolution, I note that among 20-30 year olds, support for the Tories is below 25%, and that age group and younger generations will increasingly be in a majority as time passes. There is a reasonable chance that in that department, any damage will be relatively short term.

Taking the two together, though, I think that electing the Conservatives with a working majority poses an existential threat to the Britain I know and love. Electing them as the largest party and so the one expected to form a new government would be bad enough, and I can’t see Corbyn managing to get more MPs than Johnson – but I can live in hope, and I’m not scared of a Labour government any more, particularly one which needs support from one or both of the LibDems and the SNP.

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