ALASTAIR CAMPBELL says tactical voting is a chance to vote for ‘none of the above’… and to get your message heard.
A few snapshots of conversations out on the campaign trail in recent days…
In Wokingham… “I’m not a big Corbyn fan but I’m voting for him because only Labour can get rid of the Tories.”
Bury North… “I agree [Labour’s] James Frith has been a brilliant local MP, but my big concern is climate change – so I am voting Green.”
Wakefield… “I don’t like Corbyn or Johnson, so I think I’ll go Lib Dem. They won’t harm anyone.”
Finchley and Golders Green… “I feel sorry for Luciana Berger, and I’m totally anti-Brexit, but I worry about someone who can switch party like that, so I’m sticking with Labour.”
No, no, no and no….
Vote Labour in Wokingham and you remove the chance that the Lib Dems can topple John Redwood. Vote Green in Bury North and you risk losing a brilliant, Remain-supporting local MP to a hard Brexit Tory.
Vote Lib Dem in Wakefield and you lose another one, Mary Creagh, whose head has been above the anti-Brexit parapet longer than most, and you get another Tory prepared to countenance leaving the EU without a deal. That seems pretty harmful to me. And if everyone thought as the voter in Finchley, where former Labour MP Luciana Berger has switched to the Lib Dems, we would never have a change of government!
Snapshots, as I say, but anyone who has been out and about campaigning will have had similar exchanges.
I am writing this on a train from Preston to Glasgow, and before we have even reached Lancaster, two complete strangers have come over to talk to me, one to say, simply, “Have we ever been in a bigger mess?”, the other, a lapsed Labour member who resigned from the party over what she saw as Jeremy Corbyn’s weak leadership on Brexit, to ask “who the hell do I vote for?”
“Where do you live?”
“You have to vote Labour.”
“But I can’t. It’s not just Brexit. It’s anti-Semitism. It’s Corbyn. How can he make a speech the day after a terrorist attack and basically say we have brought all these problems on ourselves? How can he say they have costed the manifesto and then they come out with a new policy on women’s pensions the day after costing billions and saying it’s OK, we’ll just borrow more? I can’t do it.”
“I get that. I really do. But we are not talking here about a choice between Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. We are talking Corbyn or Johnson. And we’re not really talking that, because I don’t see how Labour win a majority from where they are. My worry is Johnson gets a big majority and we have to stop that.”
I know this is a far from perfect campaign message. I also know that, wherever you go, though Labour candidates meet some enthusiasm for Corbyn, it is nothing like 2017. One north east Labour candidate told me, “on the doorstep, out of every ten negative comments, it is eight Corbyn for two Brexit”.
Also, as I admitted to the woman from Rossendale, in a healthy democracy, we should all vote positively for the party or candidate closest to our views and values, and then trust the country as a whole to reach, on balance, the right decision for all of us. It is because we are so far away from such an election that it all feels so depressing. And yes, it reflects badly on our electoral system but we had the chance to change that in a referendum – remember? – and we didn’t care enough to do so.
So, like it or not, at the risk of sounding like a football manager, it is what it is, and we are where we are, days away from an election which could see Boris Johnson get his hands on a sizeable majority which will not only put paid to any chances of Brexit being resolved, as it should be, in a final say referendum; but will confirm that we have followed the US in knowingly electing someone who lies with impunity, a populist who favours impact over analysis, self over service, and who also has pretty disagreeable views on women, minorities, and any institution likely to act as a check.
We will also be electing someone who is using the cover of “get Brexit done” (which he won’t, at least not in the promised timeframe,) as a mandate to take this country to a position well to the right of any Tory government we have known before. As with Trump, we cannot say we have not been warned what kind of person, what kind of politician, he is.
We can shout all we want, and believe me I do, at Corbyn’s anti-Western worldview, his Euroscepticism, his determination to bury the record and tarnish the reputation of the party’s most successful ever leader and its longest period in power. I can point out, that if Tony Blair had ever had ratings as low as Corbyn’s, it would not just have been people like me saying he had to go, he would have said so himself.
I can make the case, and I do, that far from Labour finally backing a people’s vote harming them, it is the one thing that has held them up, in taking votes from the Liberal Democrats and, as I discovered in Bury, some Tory Remainers too. There is no doubt Labour have lost some support among ardent Leavers, but as I know from my many trips north, they have lost many more because of the leader, and the politics he has allowed to dominate the party.
But, just days away from the vote, none of this is going to change. The country is not suddenly going to cast aside all those doubts and elect Corbyn with a landslide. But it might just give a landslide to Johnson. So my message in all of those chats above was to vote tactically. I showed the woman from Rossendale VoteSmart2019.com, which sets out the recommendations of all the different tactical voting sites. For her seat, Rossendale and Darwen, six out of seven said Labour. One had not yet made its recommendation.
Then I showed her a map of the result last time. A big slab of blue. A little less red. Slivers of orange and green. Then I showed her the two letters I wrote last week, one to Labour supporters in Tory/Lib Dem marginals urging them to vote Lib Dem, another to Lib Dem supporters in Tory/Labour marginals urging them to vote Labour.
“So hold my nose and vote Labour?” she said.
“‘Fraid so. And if you have any Labour friends in Tory/Lib Dem marginals, phone and tell them that’s what you’re doing, and ask them to vote Lib Dem, as a swap.”
It is far from ideal, agreed. Another snapshot conversation, from Putney, where I was meeting Ken Clarke for a chat for BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire show’s ‘election blind dates’ series on BBC2, both of us reflecting on how much politics had changed, so that his party no longer considered him to be a Tory, and mine no longer considers me to be Labour, both of us naming Lib Dems and independents we were supporting and campaigning for.
Outside the station, another random person stops me. She voted Labour last time, she tells me, but was angry that her vote was then counted, by both main parties, as being among “the 80% who voted for Brexit”.
“Me too,” I said. “Makes my blood boil.” But I showed her the VoteSmart recommendation for Putney – six out of seven for Labour.
“But they will count it as a vote for Corbyn,” she said.
“And I’m against him.”
“I know. But if you vote Lib Dem, you get a Tory Brexiteer. So what are you against more? A Johnson majority because he managed to split the Remain vote? Or a hung parliament which at least keeps alive the chances of a final say referendum?”
As we ended the conversation, I sensed someone who won’t decide to the last minute. I hope she decides to vote tactically.
Back what seems like months ago, just after the election was called, one of my favourite snapshot conversations of all, in Leeds, was with a man who said: “I feel like I’m caught between the devil and the deep red sea.”
The chances of the red sea sweeping over us are negligible. The devil, right now, is the greater risk. Tactical voting to curb his chances of excessive power in this miserable, joyless election, in which ‘None of the Above’ made into human form would win by a landslide, is all we have left. We should use it, wisely, to stop him.