Friday 30 April 2010

Voting tactically for reform?

Tactical voting has been a significant feature of the last three election campaigns. In this guest post, Michael Calderbank of the Vote for a Change coalition makes the case for tactical voting to prevent a Conservative majority and increase the chances of electoral reform, explaining how the reform campaign's new tactical voting widget as advising voters on how they could vote if they are interested in making a hung Parliament more likely.


A hung parliament remains a plausible outcome of the general election. Polling suggests that a substantial body of the electorate would actively welcome this result. Many voters want to see a change not just in personnel around the Cabinet table, but in the whole character of our politics.

Crucially, a hung parliament would open up the space for radical reform of a bankrupt voting system that no longer revolves around the overwhelming dominance of just two tribes. Hence the Conservatives, alarmed at the prospect of their hopes of a clear majority receding, are doubly horrified since electoral reform could see the consolidation of a progressive bloc which would keep them out of power for a generation.

But if a strong LibDem challenge against their Conservative rivals in areas like the South West is good news for champions of democratic reform, there is a danger elsewhere that they may inadvertently help Cameron by taking significant votes from in crucial marginal seats where Labour is best placed to win. Voting for the governing party as the best way of ensuring change might seem counterintuitive – but voters seeking real reform could be well advised to cast their ballot tactically in order to maximise the chances of a hung parliament.

This is the principle behind a new tactical voting widget launched by the Vote For a Change campaign: the site allows voters to assess their chances of making a difference to the outcome of the election, and offers advice on the candidate best placed to win and contribute towards “hanging” parliament.

Essentially, this means voting for Lib Dems and other smaller parties in seats that they might conceivably win, even in constituencies where Labour is the only other realistic challenger (unless, that is, their victory would unseat Labour’s most committed advocates of reform such as Mark Lazarowicz in Edinburgh North and Leith, formerly Co-Chair of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform).

Clearly this is not something that many Labour activists will feel entirely comfortable with – though many Labour supporters have voted in the last couple of elections to help other candidates see off a Conservative challenge, and several Labour candidates and campaigns will themselves be looking for tactical votes in some seats.

However, the quid pro quo is that the site suggests that Lib Dems back Labour candidates in the two-way marginals where they are better placed to beat the Tory, the crucial battlegrounds into which Lord Ashcroft has been pouring money to help David Cameron clock up the 326 seats he needs for a clear majority.

Voters otherwise minded to show their opposition to a Gordon Brown government might take some persuading that a tactical Labour vote offers the best chance of breaking the two party duopoly.

But unless reform-minded voters whatever their party loyalties are prepared to grasp the nettle of voting tactically, we risk letting this golden chance of engineering the most favourable conditions for reforming our politics slip by.


Stuart White said...

Oxford East is a Labour-Lib Dem marginal. It is worth noting that Andrew Smith, the Labour candidate, is one of the small number of Labour MPs who voted for a referendum on PR in the last parliament. So I would strongly urge Labour voters in Oxford East to vote for Andrew, as a reform-friendly Labour candidate, and NOT vote for the Lib Dem candidate.

Michael Calderbank said...

Stuart - I'd fully agree, and put this example in the same category of qualifying cases that I illustrated with the example of Mark Lazarowicz. There might well be further over-riding factors in Lib/Lab margainals - such as where Liberals are pushing through regressive measures in coalition with the Tories at local authority level. But the general point stands - failure to vote tactically will help David Cameron.