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The Tory voter suppression strategy

The bad news is that it’s beginning to work

Image: Getty

I am beginning to think that Grant Shapps’s invention of a Labour “supermajority” was not as daft as I thought at the time. Daft, I thought then, because he was effectively throwing in the towel on any chance of actually winning, the worst possible message for candidates trying to motivate activists and volunteers, who in turn are desperately trying to persuade people to vote Tory.

Daft, also, because in our system, there is no such thing as a supermajority (though frankly there should have been for the Brexit referendum… remember that… the thing that tore the country apart, and is now, all being well, going to help destroy the party whose then leader decided it would sort out Europe and the divisions it caused them for good.)

Here is the Oxford English Dictionary definition of a “supermajority” – “a specified proportion of votes in excess of a simple majority, as required by a legislature or other body to pass certain types of measure.” Oh yes, how much better off would we be if David Cameron had insisted that a change as significant as Brexit required much more than a simple majority. And how comical that those who argued that a 52-48 vote in favour of Leave was a green light for Brexit to mean anything the new government wanted it to mean, regardless of how many broken promises or baseball bats to the economy that entailed, are now warning that a “supermajority” for Labour will represent a terrible danger to democracy, even though it will have been delivered by, er, the parliamentary democracy on which our entire political system is founded.

In our system, a supermajority has no meaning whatsoever, yet it has quickly entered the lexicon of this election, sufficient for a member of the public to use it on last night’s BBC Question Time, and Keir Starmer not to feel he had to push back on the concept.

I think Labour should push back on it. Because the purpose of such talk by the Tories is to signal they have lost the election, and suggest that people should vote for them not because they deserve another term – they don’t – but in order to ensure there is a strong Opposition. Nigel Farage plays the same game, saying a vote for Reform is a vote for a proper Opposition.

But give or take a few postal votes, nobody has voted. And if this narrative grows, that the election is all over bar the shouting, the only beneficiaries will be apathy, low turnout… and the Tories. You will only get a change of government if you vote for a change of government. And the only other party capable of forming another government is Labour. On this at least, I think all the parties are agreed.

On The Rest Is Politics this week, I recounted my meeting on a train with some England fans in Germany, one of whom said, “if I voted, I would vote Labour, but you’re going to walk it, so why do you need my vote?” Because, I said, “if everyone thought like that, nobody would vote, and you would get no change.”

Before leaving for Germany, I was talking to two students who said they would vote Green. “I want the Tories out, I want Labour in, but I am using a protest vote to make sure they know they can’t take us for granted.” Again, if everyone felt they could vote against a Labour opposition as a pre-protest vote against a not yet elected Labour government, you wouldn’t get that government in the first place.

So I have reached the conclusion that the Supermajority nonsense unleashed by Shapps, picked up by the right wing-rags incessantly warning not to give Labour “a blank cheque,” allied to the more extreme claims that Keir Starmer is some kind of wannabe dictator who intends to rule for ever, is actually as near to a strategy as anything else the Tories have tried since Rishi Sunak got very wet in Downing Street calling the election a month ago.

Labour need to beware, and they need to expose the supermajority strategy for what it is. An attempt to stop people voting Labour out of fear that they will win everywhere; to curb tactical voting in pursuit of the overriding goal for so many in this election which is simply to get rid of the Tories; and to fuel the cynicism and apathy that are already at what must be record levels. It is, like voter ID requirements for voting which favour the old and disfavour the young, a voter suppression tactic which has morphed into an election strategy.

That it is beginning to work is clear to me from conversations I have had in recent days… with a Labour candidate trying to overturn a 13,000 plus Tory majority, who tells me “it was hard enough anyway, but it has got harder, because of polls suggesting we are almost middle of the pack in terms of target seats.”

Or Monica Harding, Lib Dem challenger in the seat vacated by Dominic Raab, who has noticed some Tory to Lib Dem switchers going back to the Conservatives, because “we don’t mind you, but we don’t want a Labour supermajority, so we need some Tories in there.” (May I kindly suggest in Surrey seats where Labour has no chance, you stick with the Lib Dems.)

Likewise, a Labour candidate in Scotland told me of one doorstep chat where the voter, who was switching SNP to Labour last time they were canvassed, was thinking of going back to stop the – yes – “Labour supermajority.”

Even without all this, and even though the concept has no meaning, there never was going to be the kind of majority the polls are indicating. Believe me on that one. These “biggest majority in history” stories are for the birds.

To get a majority of one, Labour has to perform better than we did in 1997, or Attlee did in 1945. The swing required to get a good majority is HUGE.
Also, you cannot vote in an election for an outcome. You can only vote for one candidate, in one constituency. There are a few fundamentals to consider. But the two most important in my mind are these.

The Tories deserve to lose, badly, very badly. They deserve a superdefeat, a superrout, a superbeating, so they go away and learn the lessons.

And Labour deserve to win because the party has learned some harsh lessons from recent defeats, and because, to put it mildly, Keir Starmer will be a better prime minister than the man he will hopefully replace (let alone some of Sunak’s predecessors) and the shadow cabinet has enough talent in it to be as sure as one reasonably can be that they will do a better job too. It’s not much more complicated than that.

Vote for superdefeat. Vote Labour.

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