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Tactical Voting Is Poor Democracy But It's All We Have Right Now

11/05/2017 11:47
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I'm not usually an advocate of political alliances. I think you should vote for what you believe in. But needs must when the devil drives, and the devil is well and truly behind the wheel of British politics right now. Faced with an electoral system that allows a single party to seize power on the back of 24% of the eligible vote, what choice do we have but to play the system that's been playing us for years?

As we saw in America last year, those who win by virtue of such a broken system are the least likely to change it. The paradox is that the only time they have the power to do so is after they've been elected by the very process they will have to dismantle. So instead we lumber on electing representatives who are usually anything but.

In the 2015 election, on average, a Conservative MP represented around 35,000 votes, Labour about 40,000, with the SNP on just 26,000. Other parties had a far taller mountain to climb with the Libdems showing around 300,000 votes per MP (nearly 10 times that needed for the conservatives). A single Green MP cost over a million votes whilst as UKIP seat needed nearly 4 times that. How can any of this really be sold as representative democracy?

As they ride high in the polls, it's understandable that the Conservatives don't want to see changes to a system that specifically advantages them. Given the figures above, Labour would also seem likely to support the status quo, assuming they continue to enjoy the same numerical advantage.

Yet the simple fact that only a few marginal seats carry entire general elections, explains why people have very little belief that their vote will count for anything within the democratic oxymoron that is a 'safe seat'. So much so that in some local council divisions last week, around 70% of the registered electorate didn't even bother to turn out.

Paradoxically, the marginals are also the only chink in the armour of our ostensibly rigged democracy. Target those with some well placed tactical voting and maybe you can move the swing-o-meter needle. It's a poor strategy, but it's all we've got.

The Green Party has been at the forefront of the fight to try to at least dent the majority that the Conservatives are predicted to win in June. To that end they recently agreed not to contest my home constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon where the Libdems had been dominant up until 2010 when they lost by less than 200 votes.

This comes amidst repeated calls from the Green's joint leaders to try to unseat Tories from marginal seats by working together towards next month's election. Whilst we've seen some movement on this from the Libdems, Labour has largely refused to budge.

Greens making the first move in Oxford did finally prompt some genuine discussion over potential reciprocity from the Libdems in forthcoming local elections, and there have also been encouraging actions in other constituencies, notably Caroline Lucas' in Brighton Pavilion where the Libdems have also stood aside. So perhaps the tide is turning.

But on the Labour beachheads they're still dug into their trenches. Their dogged opposition to any sort of pact or alliance has even been counterproductive to their own efforts. Indeed in 2015 they devoted so much energy to Brighton Pavilion that they lost far more assailable seats nearby.

This self destructiveness has just been amply demonstrated in Surrey where three long standing Labour party members have been expelled by their party for forming an alliance with local Greens and Libdems in an attempt to oust Jeremy Hunt by supporting National Health Action Party candidate Dr Louise Irvine.

Even pleas from several high profile Labour supporters, activists and senior Labour MPs for short term pacts have fallen on Corbyn's deaf ears. This follows on from his long standing resistance to electoral reform and last year's instructions to Labour MPs not to back Caroline Lucas' 10 Minute Rule Motion for electoral reform.

More encouragingly, David Arnold, Labour's former election agent in Hove has urged his party to agree a pact whereby the Greens stand aside in return for them allowing a free run in Pavilion. But the reaction from Labour's HQ has remained hostile.

There's a certain pig-headed arrogance in this that risks denting Corbyn's reputation as a well intentioned progressive. If he can't see beyond his and his party's egotistical dreams of winning an election outright, perhaps he's not the man we have all been led to believe he is. There's certainly an impression that, as with the Tories, internal party politics is now more important than the good of the country.

If Labour loses next month, as many believe they will, those on the left will have nowhere to go within our current fragmented electoral system. Labour's subsequent implosion would leave us with few alternatives to prevent a further Tory win in 2022. The only solution then will be a properly constituted progressive alliance with shared aims, policies and candidates.

The ultimate aim of any such group has to be the achievement of genuine electoral reform. Perhaps even the formation of a new centre left party that encompasses the aims and beliefs of those left disenfranchised by what we laughingly call British democracy.

In the meantime I'm personally in the absurd position as the Green Party Parliamentary candidate for the neighbouring Oxfordshire constituency of Banbury, of having no alternative but to vote for another party in my home constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, namely the Liberal Democrats.

I do that out of pragmatism and the hope that this may knock away at least part of a Tory majority that I feel will be ruinous for this country. It's not a choice I relish, neither is it a choice I want, but in the current ridiculous state of British electoral mechanics, it's the only choice I have left.

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