The election looms and the polls stay locked. No one yet looks set to win an outright majority. So how are progressives supposed to vote? So many questions abound – do we vote with our head or our heart, for what we most want or against what we least want? Our wretched and totally out of date electoral system orces these horrendous private dilemmas on each of us. It demands collective debate.
Back in 2010 it was a lot easier. Voting to keep the Tories out was the order of the day and that meant by and large voting Labour or in some seats Liberal Democrat. But the formation of the Coalition and the further fragmentation of party politics muddies the water a lot.
One big question is this: is the most important result the maximization of national vote share for a party or seats in the Commons? The answers dictates very different voting behaviors. Constitutionally what matters is numbers of MPs – so this would suggest a requirement to think and vote tactically.
So, do Labour people hold their nose and vote Liberal Democrat where a Liberal Democrat might win? The rational answer is yes but will they just end up supporting the Tories again?
A less tribal and more nuanced response might be that the Lib Dems are more likely go with Labour if Labour has any interest – unlike 2010 – of going with them. And if the Lib Dems go back into government in some way with the Tories – isn’t that better than outright Tory control? They can still stop some of the worse things happening. And maybe some Lib Dem candidates could make it clear that they will never prop up a Tory government.
Of course this all works the other way round – Lib Dem voters need to hold their nose and vote for Labour – despite the rather wretched way that party’s leadership has treated them. Here the total lack of empathy across the party divide divides Westminster out from the rest of the world – the lack of relational skills just marks it out as weird.
And what of Green voters? They face an awful decision. In reality they can only win in Brighton Pavilion – the chances of success elsewhere are remote – maybe at a push in Bristol West. But what voting Green could do is let the Tories in – in seats like Brighton Kemptown, Chester, Morecombe and a dozen others. These seats could decide who governs Britain. I know Greens want to build their party and they have every right to do this – but I hope they will find it in themselves to do what they can to stop the Tories. The question is what will Labour do to encourage that process?
At the last election Compass, the organisation I chair, debated the issue and its members voted to back and support tactical voting – this time we are having the debate again – and its more complicated. Anyone can join it here. It will shape what we do. We would love to know what you think.
If no one is going to win outright then the country needs to prepare now. The closed tribalists of all parties are woefully prepared for the complex political landscape their narrow views have created. But a progressive alliance will be formed in the country before Westminster follows in its slipstream. In the coming months the people of this country are going to have to act like adults and negotiate a future that will be more complex than ever – I think they are up to it. What about the politicians?
Behind their obvious public calls for you to vote for their party – they are secretly and desperately hoping that you will vote in the best way to stop the Tories – because then, and only then, will progressive parties have a chance. Because of the closed tribalism of Westminster and the out of date voting system they can’t take the lead – but we can. And we must. The alternative is just too horrendous.