Reasons to be wary of tactical voting guides

PUBLISHED: 10:58 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:18 07 November 2019

Anti-Brexit signs outside the Houses of Parliament, Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Anti-Brexit signs outside the Houses of Parliament, Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

Competing advice on the best way to vote to stop Brexit risks undermining the cause, says LIZ GERARD (seemingly marooned in a safe Tory seat). Yet she still has a few tips of her own.

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Oh, the luxury of being a Tory Leaver, of having something to vote for on December 12. To know which party you want in power, to believe in Brexit. One cross could deliver your heart's desire. Simples.

For Remainers of all political stripes, life is more complicated. Most of us will be voting against stuff: To stop Brexit, to stop the Tories in general, to stop Johnson and Cummings in particular. To stop Labour or the Liberal Democrats or the SNP.

Our friends aren't making it easy for us. You'd think that Corbyn and Swinson might want to focus their energy on getting rid of the Tories, but instead they and their tribes are scratching each other like cats in a sack while we, their supporters, are left scratching our heads in despair.

A million of us have marched, six million of us have signed petitions to the government. Poll after poll convinces us that we are the majority now. But still the politicians supposedly on our side refuse to speak for us with one voice. Never mind missing an open goal, they're all at the other end of the pitch thumping the ball in for Johnson's team over and over again.

So it was again last week, with the release of Best for Britain's mega tactical voting site, GetVoting.org.

It took about 30 seconds for Labour campaigners to protest that it was a Lib Dem front because the advice for people in some marginal constituencies - including some with a sitting Labour MP - was to vote for the Lib Dems.

It did seem odd. In my own Witham constituency - where I learnt "you lost, get over it" long before the referendum - the site recommended a vote for Swinson's lot, even though they were a distant third behind Priti Patel, who in 2017 won more than 64% of the vote and an 18,646 majority over Labour, on 26.4%.

The accompanying graphs seemed to confirm what I knew: Patel is pretty well untouchable. According to GetVoting, she can expect 44% of the vote this time.

Without tactical voting, the Lib Dems would come second with 19%, Labour and the Brexit Party joint third on 14%. With a third of Remainers voting tactically, the Lib Dems would go up to 26% and Labour dip to just under 10%. So Patel wins whatever happens; what's the point in shuffling the losers' deckchairs?

But if more voted tactically, could the Lib Dems spring a surprise? But why should they be the beneficiaries? Wouldn't the same apply if we all backed Labour?

My biggest concern - not so much in this safe seat, but in areas where the Tories could be ousted - is that if the Best For Britain advice is so counter-intuitive, that is there a danger that while some Remainers heed their advice, others will be guided by Tactical.vote (which recommends voting Labour in my area), and others will follow their gut instinct, thus splitting the Remain vote and giving the Tories the free ride the whole exercise is designed to avoid.

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I put these points to Naomi Smith, the Best for Britain chief executive who, as Labour sceptics are eager to emphasise, was once a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Lib Dems - albeit a Nick Clegg critic. I am still awaiting a response.

She has explained the mechanics of her site on various other platforms, however, and does have the evidence of a recent 46,000-sample poll to work with. She has also pointed out that the site advises voting Labour in 375 constituencies, against 180 for the Lib Dems.

It also backs some former Tories, including Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve. But as the Oxford political economist professor Simon Wren-Lewis put it: "If you are going to persuade people to vote in a way they would rather not, you have to do more than just say 'the computer says' and 'it has worked in the past'. You have to give some understandable reasons."

We are five weeks from polling day. Much can change and Best For Britain is promising to update its advice as the campaign progresses. So probably the best strategy of all, for now, is that recommended by the Scientists for EU founder and prominent Remain activist Mike Galsworthy: Chillax.

If I may add my twopenn'th, these are my pleas to fellow Remainers:

1 Make sure you are registered to vote. If you are a student, register both at home and at uni. Apply for a postal vote so that you have the flexibility to vote where you wish, then cast that vote where it will have the most effect.

Tell your friends to do the same and if you have student offspring, make sure they do so.

2 Unless the Greens have a real prospect of success in your constituency, put climate change and Greta to one side this time. Yes, it's the most important thing for your future, but Brexit is the most immediate threat and this is your one chance to stop it.

3 Stop 'punishing' the Lib Dems for tuition fees and austerity; stop 'punishing' Labour for some members' anti-Semitism. However distasteful you find either, the objective is to stop Brexit and the only way to have any hope of doing that is to oust the Tories.

4 Don't fall for the Project Fear that will come from the Conservatives and their press allies on the 'danger' of Jeremy Corbyn moving into Number 10. If you want his radical agenda, vote for it. You might get lucky.

But if it scares you, remember that the chances of his leading a majority government on December 13 are remote, so the probability is that we'd end up with Corbyn Lite. (And yes, he may be a Brexiter at heart, but no, his Brexit policy is not incomprehensible. It's quite sensible, given the number of Leave-supporting Labour voters.)

It would, of course, be much easier if the opposition parties worked together. If you get a seat in the Question Time audience or if canvassers knock on your door, you might care to make that point. We're naturally all doing that already in our social media echo chambers.

For the first time in three years, it feels as though the tide night turn in our direction. The scandals are piling up against Johnson. Corbyn is a far better campaigner when it comes to meeting real people. And we may have a surprise saviour: Nigel Farage's demand that Johnson tears up his deal is sticking a spanner in the Tory works. This is our final chance. Courage, mes braves! Let's get Brexit gone.

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