For Tomorrow (IV) – I just can’t see myself following you

I’m increasingly unhappy about associating myself with Backing Blair. Before I get into explaining why, here’s a small reminder of just how broken our electoral system currently is. Nick has already buried the “Vote Lib Dem, get Tory” argument, but here’s another nail in its coffin.

Posted by Hello

We assume that the Lib Dem share of the vote goes up to 35%. We also assume – wildly unrealistically – that the Lib Dems are twice as attractive to former Labour voters as they are to ex-Tories; in this example, approximately 2/3 of the overall swing to the Lib Dems has come from Labour voters, putting Labour 5% behind the Lib Dems in the popular vote. The result? A substantial Labour majority.

The brokenness of the electoral system is one of the key facts about this election, and one of the reasons why it’s hard to talk about the election without talking about tactical voting – or other creative uses of the vote, from vote-swapping to this calculated attempt to break the log-jam. But there’s another, equally important fact, which I was reminded of by Billy Bragg’s comment – in the piece I’ve just quoted – that

“The last thing we want is a resurgent Tory party which forces Labour to tack to the right in the direction of their main perceived threat.”

With this thought in mind, the words of the Backing Blair FAQ –

I refuse to vote Tory/Lib-Dem etc.
Suck it up. There’s a job to be done.

– seem less like hardnosed political realism and more like wilful obtuseness.

The point here isn’t that the Tories are uniquely dangerous – although they’ve shown some pretty unpleasant faces in the last week or so, God knows. The point is that all the main parties are stuck. The Tories are stuck because New Labour has stolen so much of their core post-Thatcher programme; an imaginative Conservative Party (perhaps under Portillo) might have bitten the bullet and outflanked Labour to the Left, but as it is they’ve been reduced to rummaging around in the Powellite gutter. The Liberal Democrats are well and truly stuck, because they’re attracting votes from the Left – Left of New Labour, anyway – but they need to win Tory seats. And Labour are stuck, because they’ve lost the trust that they were relying on, and – as I said earlier – the one thing they can’t do is appeal to core Labour values. (They’re giving it a go, but not very convincingly.)

We’re living in a strange, muted, deadened political landscape, where many of the most important questions go unanswered or unasked. I don’t for a moment believe that this is our historical condition, that we’re beached in some Fukuyamaesque arrivals lounge at the end of History; I believe it’s the calm before the storm breaks. The question is how it will break. Clearly New Labour’s blockage of the political system needs to be cleared, but this doesn’t mean – quoting Tim Worstall – “get rid of Tone even at the expense of voting Tory”: breaking New Labour at the cost of endorsing the Tories, in their current state, would be disastrous. What it means, I think, is “get rid of Blair, but not at the expense of voting Tory”; it means, apart from anything else, that the Left needs to hold its nerve. It’s not just the anti-Blair vote that we need to maximise on May 5, but (what will be seen as) the anti-Blair left vote – or, at the very least, (what will be seen as) the anti-Blair, anti-war vote. (For more along these lines, read The Anti-War Movement Must Resist Labour Scaremongering – it’s excellent.) We can vote tactically, in this sense, but not at the expense of voting on principle. At least, that’s what I’m planning to do.


  1. Syd Webb
    Posted 17 April 2005 at 13:20 | Permalink | Reply

    The brokenness of the electoral system is one of the key facts about this election, and one of the reasons why it’s hard to talk about the election without talking about tactical voting – or other creative uses of the vote

    Phil, ISTM that the UK electoral system – first-past-the-post voting – non-random spread of voters in constituencies – is broken.

    And I hate to be a downer. But it also seems to me – based on the last 30 years spent in a country with a less broken system – that it doesn’t matter what the electoral system is. Unless you do something about the electorate itself, the most fair system in the world will still give you governments led by men very much like Blair and Howard. Oddly, it seems that’s what people want.

    It’s a disquieting fact. We can either acquiesce, seek to change it, subvert it or ignore it. What we can’t do is wave a wand.

  2. Phil Hunt
    Posted 17 April 2005 at 20:29 | Permalink | Reply

    The way to fix the voting system is to vote Lib Dem, hope this leads to a LD government or coalition, and that they’ll introduce PR.

  3. Jarndyce
    Posted 17 April 2005 at 21:58 | Permalink | Reply

    I agree with PH. The more votes cast for the Lib Dems, the more unfair the current system looks, the more chance change will come. Nothing will clear the log-jam in the party system as much as a shake-up of the electoral system.

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