It is the eve of polling for the 2017 general election and decision time is almost upon us. Many people will have decided where their vote will go before the election was called, but a large minority will have been reading the media and listening to the views of the party leaders and candidates before making their choice. But for some, it isn’t as simple as that. Probably more than in other election in recent years, the Tactical Vote has become a big issue in a lot of areas.
Almost from the kick-off, there has been a co-ordinated campaign by the “progressive” parties to persuade voters in key marginal seats to vote, not with their conscience or political allegiances, but instead to put their support behind the candidate in the best position to defeat the Conservatives. This is not a new phenomena and has been practised in my own town for many years now, first by the Liberal Party and now by the LibDems.
But why should people have to vote for a party or candidate they don’t support? After all, this is a democracy and we can vote for who we like can’t we? Certainly we can. It is everybody’s right to put their X next to the candidate of their choice. And if we had an electoral system that ensured that each vote counted equally then yes, go for it. Vote for your chosen candidate in the comfort of knowing your vote will do some good.
Unfortunately, we have an electoral system that doesn’t work that way. The first-past-the-post system we use for electing our MPs, and consequently the government, wastes thousands of votes and allows governments to be formed by parties that can barely manage to get the support of a third of the electorate, if that! In its heartlands, Labour MPs are regularly elected with huge majorities, often taken taking up to 80% of the vote. Whilst this is impressive, they still only count towards the election of one MP. In other constituencies, MPs are routinely elected with just 30%. To me this has never seemed right. I would want to see people elected with a majority. What we really need is a new system, one that encourages electors to vote with their heart and feel their vote counts. It is telling that we have not adopted the first-past-the-post system for the recent mayoral elections or for MEPs.
But that is not going to change any time soon. The Conservatives, and to some degree Labour as well, have a vested interest in maintaining the staus quo. They argue that a more proportional system will make it much more likely that parties will have to work together to form coalitions. Personally I don’t have a problem with that, despite what people say about the Con/LibDem government of 2010-15. This arrangement allowed the LibDems to get some of their policies through and also to veto some of the Conservative’s more damaging ideas. In addition, proposed boundary changes will benefit the Tories, making it extremely difficult for any opposition to gain a working majority.
We have a far from perfect system. It has gone on well beyond it’s sell by date and needs some radical reform. But in the meantime voters have to work with what we’ve got. And yes, in some areas, that may mean having to decide between voting for the candidate of your choice, or voting against the one you really don’t want to see elected. I am lucky in that for me, they are the same thing – I would vote for my chosen candidate anyway, regardless of the tactical element. But I can understand the frustration of those who have to make a very difficult choice when they come to cast their vote tomorrow, to vote with their head, or with their heart.
In the end, the important thing is that people go out and vote. Nothing will change if people stay away. Change can only be made if we all stand up and add our voice to the crowd.