The recent by-election results in Tiverton & Honiton and Wakefield should give some hope to pro-EU campaigners that Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit government can be defeated. George Stevenson reflects.
In both constituencies, voters seem to have decided that they’ve had enough of Johnson’s approach and decided to use the opportunity to send him and his government a message.
Whilst Labour in particular could be more assertive in proposing improvements to the current meagre Brexit deal, or even something more radical like Single Market membership, removing Johnson and his cabal from power would remove a significant obstacle to a more co-operative relationship with the EU.
What seems to have been important in both by-elections is that voters seem to have realised which party was best placed to defeat the Conservative candidate, and, aided by some canny decisions by national parties on where to focus campaigning efforts, successfully backed that party’s candidate.
By-elections are not necessarily representative of what will happen in a general election (Michael Romberg cautioned us in 2019 that general elections are about ‘who will form the government’), but there seems to be some more general evidence that voters are increasingly willing to vote tactically to defeat the Johnson government. Johnson now seems to be facing a squeeze from Conservative voters fed up with the direction and character of the party, and more recent converts from Labour who feel that the promises made in 2019 haven’t amounted to anything tangible.
This matters, because, as I’ve explained before, culturally conservative (and pro-Brexit) voters are more evenly spread across the country than culturally liberal (and more pro-EU) ones, who tend to be concentrated in larger towns & cities; thus giving an inbuilt advantage to the cultural conservatives in a First Past the Post system. So if we want to get rid of Johnson, and have some hope of restoring a better relationship with the EU, we will have to vote tactically. And as I explained at the beginning of the year, if this results in a hung parliament, then this increases the opportunity for electoral reform, which will neutralise the disproportionate effect of the pro-Brexit cultural conservatives and ease the way to much better co-operation with the EU, and possibly an eventual rejoin.
For many without strong party ties or identities, this may just be a pragmatic decision on who is best placed to win. But for those who may identify more strongly with a particular party, this may be uncomfortable. In these cases, look on it as lending your vote to another party in order to achieve a greater aim. You can always go back to your more usual patterns in the future if you feel this is important.
Finding out to whom to lend your vote should be relatively simple: Wikipedia lists election results in constituencies going back over a number of years, so it’s easy to find who came second, and by how much. Although given the volatility of the 2017 and 2019 results, it might be better to look back a bit further- a consistent run of second places may be a better indicator. And don’t forget your own gut instinct - does it feel like a place where Labour, the Liberal Democrats or Greens would do best? And how much attention does each of the national parties seem to be paying to the constituency? In 2019, there were a number of tactical voting websites making recommendations, and there’s no reason to suppose this would be any different at the next election (whenever it may be). Our fellow campaigning organisation Best for Britain has already indicated that it will set up such a website for the next election.
Voting tactically may seem unduly cynical, and a tarnishing of the democratic ideal, but in truth, within the constraints of the First Past the Post system it’s the best chance we have of removing Johnson and his cohort from power. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel now, so let’s make the most of it.
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.