Sunday, May 01, 2005

Tactical Voting

Although I'm currently mostly living in Oxford, I'm likely to vote at home in Battersea at the next general election, the consensus about which is that it'll be held on the 5th of May. This is largely because at the last general election, in 2001, when I was also mostly living in Oxford, I was told that Battersea was at risk of being lost to the Tories: it wasn't, with the sitting - since 1997 - Labour MP Martin Linton getting a majority of votes cast and having a margin of nearly fourteen percent in the end, albeit on a very low turnout. Still, I duly registered for my postal vote, and voted for Linton, knowing that Battersea had been Tory since, I think, 1983, is now, in parts rather wealthy (google the phrase 'between the commons', and half the links appear to be to posh looking estate agents' sites), and could well be Tory again.

This time there is no way I am voting for Linton. Either I'll vote in Oxford West and Abingdon, where Evan Harris, who appears to be a reasonably good thing, is the sitting Lib Dem MP, or I'll vote Lib Dem at home, even though the Lib Dems appear to have absolutely no chance of winning the constituency, having got around twelve percent last time round. Linton is an awful MP: he never speaks - 440 out of 659, but he always votes - 12 out of 659 - with the Labour front bench; he is the 576th most rebellious MP in a parliament full of craven backbenchers. I wrote to him urging him to protest the war in Iraq, and got back a letter full of pro-war platitudes like "I will never apologise for supporting the removal of Saddam Hussein", as if Saddam had just been magically disappeared, by a mere act of will, rather than by invading and occupying a country which is now a complete mess. The only time I've seen him in the media was on Channel Four news, talking about proposed changes to the drug laws - he's on the Home Affairs select committee - coming across like David Blunkett was a dangerous social liberal. I cannot, in good conscience, vote for this man because he appears not to share any of the political goals that I do.

I'm mentioning this because there's been a couple of posts by British bloggers - here and here, the second by someone who apparently lives in Battersea - on the prospect of internet-organised tactical voting. Obviously I don't want the Tories to get in: 'something of the night' is about the nicest honest thing you could say about Michael Howard. Equally obviously, I find New Labour more than a little trying: their commitment to the market is ideological, their foreign policy gives liberal internationalism a bad name, and their failure to even attempt, despite two landslides, to shift political discourse in Britain out of the money-grubbing individualism and social authoritarianism of the Thatcherite era, to create, as the Attlee government did, a consensus around a set of values which outlasted the government itself, is both depressing and damaging. A social democratic party which refuses to contemplate taxing any incomes at above forty percent, which takes it as a virtue that it will not do that, is a social democratic party in name only.

I want a Labour party which believes in social justice and individual liberty at home, and military force as a method of absolutely last resort to achieve those goals abroad. This is my prime concern in deciding how to vote. I want the Labour party heirarchy to be forced to pay attention not just to the agenda of the Daily Mail and the Sun, and traditional Tory voters in marginal seats in Middle England, but to a genuinely progressive, social democratic agenda. To the views of people like my Dad, who was a member throughout the hard times of the seventies and eighties, who fought tooth and nail to protect the values of a social democratic party against the cheap radicalism of Militant when others wouldn't, who canvassed, who leafletted, who got the vote out, who went to branch meetings, who have been resigning their membership in disgust en masse. When people who split the Labour Party because they feared it was becoming unelectable because it was too left-wing are to the left of a Labour government on more or less every issue, something has gone seriously wrong.

The best way to my mind of achieving this goal of dragging Labour back to the centre-left is to punish Labour not by defecting to the Tories, but to the Lib Dems. If erstwhile Labour supporters vote Tory, that's a mandate to shift further to the right, a mandate to argue that lies about crime, immigration and the EU work, and that the Party should betray everything it holds dear to ensure that it gets to implement the policies based on those lies rather than the Tories. So no Labour voter who thinks the current government is too much like a Tory government should be voting for the Tories to teach them a lesson, because, even if you have had a irony bypass, voting Tory isn't going to make Labour any less Tory. They should vote for a party which stands for the things they stand for, or is at least on the proper side of the political spectrum. They need to make it clear that the Labour Party cannot take them for granted, that they want to vote for a party who takes seriously their values and concerns, and that if Labour is not the party closest to those values and concerns, they will desert them.

Personally, I'm not particularly concerned about which party it is that takes social justice and individual liberty seriously. If the Lib Dems end up being the guardians of the values of the Beveridge Report, then the Lib Dems end up being the guardians of the values of the Beveridge Report. However, the Lib Dems are not yet a potential party of government, and are unlikely to become one under the current voting system, so the centre-left needs the Labour Party: specifically, it needs it back on the centre-left, and that means letting it know that it cannot continue to be dragged to the right by a dubious strategy of triangulation without risking losing the support of the core that kept it alive in the dark days. So, Backing Blair and So Now Who Do We Vote For both have it wrong: Backing Blair says just vote for whoever will keep Labour out, which will mean voting for the Tories a lot of the time, which doesn't make sense, and So Now Who Do We Vote For is only advocating voting against Labour where other centre-left parties might win, which means no protest votes in seats where the contest is Labour-Tory, which means Labour can ignore most of its supporters views as long as they're no quite as bad as the Tories.


Jim Doyle said...

Backing Blair lied? I don't think soAlso: Backing Blair: not just Iraq, fighting Unions too

El said...

I don't entirely understand what you're suggesting. Rather than voting Conservative (because they're worse) or voting for another left-wing candidate when Labour are going to win (as this would be pointless); you're going to avoid the issue and vote in a constituency where the Lib dems are bound to win? What about people who don't have this option? What should they do? At least the tactical voting websites are actually tackling the issue, albeit in a pretty shite way, rather than skirting around it.

Rob Jubb said...

I'm suggesting defecting to the Lib Dems as a general strategy: Respect are, so far as I can tell, Militant in another guise, and the Greens are a bit dodgy on the EU, as well as being a bit too close to the radical fringe on a number of issues. The rationale is a) New Labour is, in many ways, despicably right-wing b) the Labour Party needs to be dragged back to the left c) the way of forcing the Labour Party back to the left is to vote for another party which is at least as leftwing as it is d) the only mainstream party to the left of Labour on many issues is the Lib Dems e) therefore, vote Lib Dem. I'm more likely to vote at home because it makes it more obvious that an ex-Labour voter has defected to the Lib Dems.

My complaint with Backing Blair is that it advocates voting Tory. This is counterproductive, because it makes it look like Labour is losing votes because it is not rightwing enough, hence justifying further lurches to the right. My complaint with So Now How Do We Vote For is that it will not advocate voting for other leftish candidates in seats where it is a straight fight between Labour and the Tories. Given that this is the situation in much of England, this deprives disaffected Labour voters of the chance of a protest vote: these supporters can continue to be taken for granted. Nick Barlow's post (linked to above I think) also has a good point about rebel Labour MPs: they should be supported, a distinction which neither of these sites really makes.

I didn't go to the meeting because a) I'm lazy, disorganized and generally a bit crap and b) given the crap Linton came up with last time I contacted him, making him squirm may be satisfying but it's not going to change him.

Anonymous said...

I also live in Battersea and gogign to follow your lead as Labour voter voting liberl democrats who seem to have an excellent candidate. Theer is no wasted vote as if enough people vote for them tehn they can win and let's get Linton out he has not rperesented us well