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19 Apr, 2018

Tactical voting #ABTV? Think it through

London4Europe Committee member Michael Romberg reminds us that local authorities are important democratic bodies in their own right. Vote for whoever would best run the Council. But if you are going to vote tactically, there is no point in avoiding one hard Brexit party to support another.

London4Europe is an all-party and non-party organisation. We stand for Remain and seek a People's Vote on the terms of the deal. On EU issues we assess the stances of the parties and of individuals within the parties against our objectives. While we will not recommend one party over another, we do set out how party policies compare with our aims and we highlight the contradictions in electoral campaigning on EU issues. This blog deals with the contradictions in some anti-Brexit tactical voting campaigns.

What local authorities do

On Thursday 3 May 2018, local elections will be held in England, with elections to all 32 London boroughs, 34 metropolitan boroughs, 68 district/borough councils and 17 unitary authorities. There will also be direct elections for certain Mayoralties

Local government fulfills a range of functions. It provides services like social care, housing, education. It shapes our communities through planning decisions and the rôle as civic leaders.

Local government raises money through taxes and charges: Council Tax was set to raise about £25bn in 2015-16. Excluding police, local authorities were set to spend about £100bn in 2016-17.

Local government and local politicians have no direct bearing on whether Brexit goes ahead.

So the right way to cast your vote is according to who you think will run the Council best. Anything else downgrades the local government elections to a sort of opinion poll on the Government or Brexit.

And do vote: typical turnout figures of 30-35% hardly convey a mandate. They also increase the likelihood of an individual vote counting.

If you are voting tactically on Brexit

Although all parties are divided on Brexit, there is normally no doubt about what the parties stand for.

So the Liberal Democrats and Greens have Leave voters and Brexit supporters. Even UKIP is not unanimous: 4% of UKIP voters voted Remain in 2016. But no-one doubts what these parties stand for.

There are new parties, like Renew, founded on a stop-Brexit platform and with a selection of other policies designed to appeal to opponents of Brexit who cannot bring themselves to vote for one of the established Remain parties. So for example Renew declares that “student loans are not working”. There are also individuals standing on a Remain platform. Voting for such a party is a bit like voting for UKIP in the borough elections, though with the sign reversed. The party’s one key policy is essentially irrelevant to the task in hand.

Prominent Conservative MPs like Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve are campaigning at least for a soft Brexit and one that is managed properly. A third of those who voted Conservative in 2017 had voted Remain.

The Conservative Group for Europe believes that “it is in the interests of the United Kingdom, Europe and the wider world that the UK maintains the closest possible political, economic and security relationship with its friends, partners and allies in the European Union.”

But l do not think that anyone doubts that the Conservatives are a party of Brexit. Check Theresa May’s speech if in doubt.

It is only Labour where a lot of people find the party’s stance hard to assess; or perhaps where they are unwilling to face up to the reality. A third of Labour voters and over half of students who vote Labour think the party is for Remain.

That may be because organisations like Labour against Brexit  and Remain-Labour are campaigning to change party policy to stay in the EU. MPs like Chuka Umunna are campaigning to stay in the Single Market and for a referendum on the terms. The Labour controlled council in Hammersmith and Fulham has adopted a policy of calling for a vote on the terms of the deal - with the option to Remain. A collection of South London Labour councillors have written to Keir Starmer saying that the party should “be committed to providing the opportunity for people to change their mind”. Keir Starmer has indeed moved Labour to wish to be close to Europe, for example through a Customs Union - but those are arrangements for how to manage Brexit, not for how to Remain

So one needs to be clear. All that pro-EU intra-Labour campaigning has had no material effect. Whatever the formal constitutional role of the Labour Party Conference, for all practical purposes what the Leader sets out is party policy. Jeremy Corbyn is fully for Brexit - and a hard Brexit at that which prioritises the end of Freedom of Movement. Check his speech if in doubt. Those who in 2017 called for a vote for Jeremy Corbyn to stop Theresa May’s hard Brexit should have realised from the manifesto that Labour also stood for hard Brexit. Labour whips its MPs to support Brexit. Owen Smith was sacked for calling for a referendum on the terms. Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a pro-Brexit party, whatever individual members and activists wish.

How a tactical vote will be recognised

There are two main ways.

Either in detail. So a vote for a Councillor who campaigns for a referendum on the terms provides a benefit to the cause. That assumes for example that:

  • the individual can make a difference;
  • that voting for a party that is not represented in Parliament can impact on national politics; and that
  • those commentators who will be assessing the local government vote in terms of an opinion poll on Brexit will recognise the subtleties of each candidate’s stance.

The other method is to vote for a Remain party. That might mean voting against an individual in a Brexit party who is for Remain. It would assume that votes would be aggregated reflecting the parties’ overall stance. I find it hard to believe that journalists would do anything else, if treating the vote as a poll on the Government/ Brexit. How many commentators subtracted votes for Ken Clarke when wondering about the size of Theresa May’s Brexit mandate from the 2017 election?


The answer is easy: don’t vote tactically, take local government seriously in its own right and vote for the best people to run the Council. In any event, do vote.

If you will vote tactically to send a Remain message, you have to ask yourself how your vote will be counted for the message it sends. Will it be by recognising the views of the individual councillor based on their Brexit stance and the actions they are taking? Will it be by aggregating votes and reflecting national policies? If the latter, there is no point in voting tactically for a party that supports Brexit.


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