MITCH BENN on why there are no safe seats in this election and uses Richmond Park to defend tactical voting.
It’s utterly absurd that while I’ve been writing this column for a little over three years now, not only is this the second general election I’ve had to cover in that time, but that previous general election was itself a snap election called after just two years.
When the exhausted and browbeaten British public trudge out into the cold and dark on December 12, this will be the third time in just four and a half years that they’ve been dragged out to the polls. Fourth, if you include that referendum.
I could spend a few paragraphs reflecting on the exquisite irony of the fact that one of the main reasons advocates of the first past the post system have always trotted out in its defence is that it is supposed to avoid situations like this.
They’d point to, for example, Italy, and say “Look! Hung parliaments! Weak coalitions! Elections every couple of years! Is that what you want?” Well no, it wasn’t, but now we’ve got it anyway and without the compensation our European neighbours have of a parliament whose composition actually reflects the political make-up of the whole nation. As it stands, the UK has a parliament that’s weak, volatile and unrepresentative. Well done us.
I could probably blow half a page on the savage irony of a government which, in this form and its previous incarnation, has been sagely chiding Remainers that you can’t just keep having vote after vote after vote until you get the result you want, while doing precisely that, both inside the House in pursuit of its Brexit deal(s) and now out in the country in pursuit of a majority. Again.
And yes, I could also rattle off a couple of hundred words on the subject of how, just four years after David Cameron passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act so we’d have no more of this nonsense of a sitting prime minister being able to randomly call an election when they think it might benefit them politically, we’ve now had two sitting prime ministers randomly calling an election when they thought it might benefit them politically.
I haven’t read David Cameron’s book; unless it’s just the words “I’m really really sorry” typed out 20,000 times à la The Shining I don’t think I’ll bother.
Now is not the time for recriminations. Actually now is the time for recriminations, God knows we’re due some serious recriminations. I’m so backed up with recriminations I’m afraid to cough; there would be recriminations everywhere. But they’ll have to wait, along with the bitterness and resentment, however tempting and justified they might be. Right now we’ve got things to do.
I’ve got it easier than most people, I know: I’ve been political for as long as I can remember but I’ve never been party political. I shall be voting tactically next month because that’s how I’ve always voted. I have no tribal loyalties to suspend.
And I’m fortunate – ish – in that my constituency is a Tory/Liberal Democrat marginal. Specifically Zac Goldsmith’s Tory/Lib Dem marginal, which he retook in 2017 by a whopping 45 votes. I know which way I’ll be voting.
But even those of us who don’t have an ethical dilemma to grapple with have our work cut out. There’s still a hell of a lot of misunderstanding out there of how our electoral system actually works, and understandably so: It’s a parliamentary system which markets and promotes itself as a presidential system.
I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve heard say “I’m not voting for Jeremy Corbyn”; well, no, unless you live in Islington by definition you won’t be voting for Jeremy Corbyn. Similarly unless you live in Uxbridge, you don’t get to vote for Boris Johnson (unless Boris does indeed abandon Uxbridge and his 5,000 majority for the shires, as rumour says he might).
And every day I see a Labour supporter flagging up the 2010-2015 coalition, saying “You vote Lib Dem, you get Tory”. Well, sometimes, perhaps. Depends on the seat. Like I said, in my own constituency in 2017, Zac Goldsmith came in just 45 votes ahead of the Lib Dems’ Sarah Olney while the Labour candidate polled 5,778. In this seat, voting Labour let the Tories in.
We only get to vote for our local candidates. That’s all. Obviously the result of each individual constituency election has ramifications for the nation when combined, but all you get to vote for is your local candidates. Our general elections are discussed and opinion-polled as a national election, when in reality they’re not; they’re 650 simultaneous by-elections.
We’ve got five weeks: First thing we need to do is to get out the vote, because you can be damn sure the other side will. Second thing we’ve got to do is encourage people to look at the lie of the land in their own constituency and to consider the consequences of their actions more than the motivations behind them. Your pure motives benefit only yourself; your actions benefit – or injure – everyone.
The last point we need to make is this: There are no safe seats. There are no marginals. Until the polls close every constituency in the country exists in a Schrödinger’s Cat state of unknowableness. Everything is in flux and everything is to play for.
This may not be the kind of vote we wanted.
But it’s a vote, God damn it.