The one flaw with tactical voting

And the reason Brown may be holding back from echoing Balls, Hain et al.

Mehdi Hasan's interview with Ed Balls continues to set the agenda in Westminster this afternoon, with mixed reports as to whether the Prime Minister backs Balls in joining Peter Hain, Douglas Alexander, Andrew Adonis and others in endorsing tactical voting in marginal seats to keep out the Tories.

The Guardian is reporting that Brown has indeed backed the call, while other outlets including Sky News are claiming that Brown is simply saying, "Vote Labour", which appears to be his latest message.

Earlier, I reported that some are saying Brown will disassociate himself from the plea, because if he made it, that would enhance the Tories' ability to say "Vote Clegg, get Brown".

But there may be another important reason why there are slightly mixed messages on this: the question of vote share, as well as seat count, is suddenly, as has been pointed out elsewhere, a factor in this election, a factor normally buried by the now popularly discredited first-past-the-post system.

Nick Clegg, for example, has suggested that he will not let Brown "squat" in Downing Street if Labour comes third in its share of the vote. For that reason, some in Labour -- including Alexander, who is reportedly worried by calls for Labour people to vote Lib Dem in marginals where the Liberals can beat the Tories -- are acutely aware that tactical voting could spell trouble.

 

 

 

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.