In the 1997 general election Tony Blair decided Labour wouldn’t stand a candidate against the Independent anti-corruption candidate Martin Bell in the Tatton constituency in Cheshire. Neither did the Lib Dems in what was the 4th safest Tory seat in the UK at the time. The tactic to rid the constituency of the incumbent Tory Neil Hamilton, who was entangled in allegations of sleaze, worked, with Hamilton losing his seat to Bell. Alistair Campbell, Blair’s press secretary was purported to have engineered the move.
Fast forward to June 2023 and tactical voting was once again a political hot potato. The example above lies at the extreme end of tactical techniques and it is more common for voters to have to decide whether to vote with their head or their heart in our Two-Party state, where a general election will either deliver a Labour or Tory government.
This dilemma is played out in constituency alongside constituency all over the UK with progressive minded voters having to choose between a left of centre party vaguely aligned with their beliefs or a left of centre more closely aligned with their values but less likely to win.
The UK is frequently led by right wing governments elected on a minority of the popular vote, despite higher numbers of people voting for left of centre parties. In the last general election the Tories won fewer than half the votes cast yet ended up with over half the seats.
Voters in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Selby and Ainsley, and Somerset and Frome, had to decide whether to be guided by their head or their heart.
A close look at the results for Uxbridge and South Ruislip shows that tactical voting could have delivered a new progressive MP into Parliament instead of a Tory. Fewer than 500 votes were needed for Labour to beat the Tories and the Lib Dem and Green votes combined totalled 1,419.
This is a choice that no voter should have to make. And if we had Proportional Representation (PR) they wouldn’t have to. A system where every vote matters. A system where voters can, every time, chose the Party whose values they most closely share. A system aligned with lower levels of inequality, higher standards of living and better trade union rights.
Labour needs to listen to its members and the general public at large. A majority of voters now support a move to PR. If Labour made a commitment to introduce PR in its next manifesto, it would be able to lock the Tories out of power for years to come.
It’s time for Politics for the Many, it’s time for PR.