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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Vote Labour, get Conservative

When I was a student I would often approach an essay with an idea of what I was going to say, write it, work through the argument and the facts logically and then find that I had come to a completely different conclusion altogether. Perhaps that is why I did not make a career as an academic. Having read Nick Cohen's Observer column today it seems that he had the same problem except that he left his original conclusion in, unchanged.

Mr. Cohen seeks to debunk the idea of protest or tactical voting so as to persuade people that the only way to get a Labour Government is to vote for it. He argues that those people who are fed up with Labour and want a change, actually have no choice at all. They must vote tactically he says, to get the very result they do not want.

His problem lies in his assumption that the Tories are ahead and may win. Now that is perfectly possible of course, but it is not reflected in the polls nor in the application of those polls on a regional or constituency basis, where the voting arithmetic requires a substantial Tory lead just to deprive Labour of a majority. Nobody is saying that Labour cannot lose, only that it is too early to say and that the swings required would be seismic. As I have said earlier, differential turnout will be a key factor in the result.

Nevertheless, if you set out to avoid a Tory victory whilst wanting to give Tony a bloody nose, you do need to look at the past results of the constituency you are living in rather than the national polls themselves. Nick Cohen acknowledges this:

In many seats, that's true. If the Lib Dems are in second place to a Tory, it would be mad for any civilised person who is sickened by Howard's hard right stunts to do anything other than vote for them. After Iraq, there will also be straight Labour-Lib Dem fights in many cities and leftish voters will be free to go for the party that represents their views.

He argues that in a three way marginal, or a seat that has a substantial third party vote behind a second placed Conservative there are dangers in protest voting that need to be acknowledged. He is absolutely right that the electoral system is a disgrace because it can create moral dilemmas for people who wish to vote with their conscience, but his conclusion that "we're stuck with the system we've got, and I'm afraid that the rather obvious point about it is that it won't give you a Labour government unless you vote Labour." is just nonsense in the context of the sophisticated argument that has gone before it.

It is self-evident that the consequences of any vote that you cast are different depending on where you cast it. There are many places where Labour cannot win and where a vote for a Labour Government may well produce another Conservative MP. There are also seats where Labour are threatened by another party of the left, in which it is right that you exercise your prerogative to punish Labour for their abandonment of principle by giving that party a chance, with no danger whatsoever that the Tories could win in that seat.

Ultimately, however the solution is to vote for the party which most closely reflects your own views in terms of their policies and their critique of the Government. Tactical voting does have its place but it only works on a constituency by constituency basis and, no matter how much Nick Cohen, Peter Hain and others argue to the contrary, cannot be exercised nationally so as to put the Tories into Government.

Surely it should be “Vote Lib Dem – get Michael Howard” for greater accuracy?
Except as numerous people have already pointed out that is complete nonsense. The electoral arithmetic is such that if you vote Liberal Democrats then you get Lib Dems MPs. If you re-read this post and similar ones by Nick Barlow you will see that there is no danger whatsoever of letting in Michael Howard by the back door by voting for the Liberal Democrats.
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