Can Labour win? Is St Jeremy on his way to Number 10?

If I was to believe my Twitter bubble over the past few days I’d be thinking something astonishing was about to happen. Labour tribalists are all aquiver. Jaded, dispassionate cynics are waking up and smelling the coffee. Even the BBC’s correspondents, having casually written Corbyn’s Labour off weeks ago, are forced to admit things are getting closer. Too close for Tory HQ, where the apparatchiks are giving headless chickens a run for their money as they press the panic button. Can Labour really pull off the biggest election shock since 1945?

The answer is still a short and simple no.

In 1945 there was no polling. Even though the polls got it badly wrong in 2015 (understating the Tory vote note) they can’t be that wrong. Its true there’s been a dramatic shift since the local elections, and more particularly since the Tory manifesto was launched. The Tory lead has been almost halved, from overwhelming to merely comfortable. Most of the change came in the week after the 18th, when there was a small fall in the Tory ratings but a larger rise in Labour’s.

The average of ICM, YouGov, Opinium and ORB polling

It seems that those who were don’t knows but previous Labour voters at the beginning of the campaign have now overcome their qualms and are swinging back behind Labour. Previous Ukip voters, although still heavily Tory, are slightly more likely now to return to Labour. At the same time Corbyn’s strategy seems to be enthusing younger voters, where Labour support is consolidating.

Policy is less important as an attractor or repellent than image. The superficiality of the Tory reliance on parroting ‘strong and stable’ and contrasting May with Corbyn hasn’t worked. Even through the distorting mirror of the media, people can spot May’s flip-flopping over care for the elderly. She just doesn’t come over as ‘strong and stable’, proving that marketing myths have to have some credible core in order to work.

Tory panic is now displayed in their strategy for the remaining days. All they can come up with is a renewed attack on Corbyn while ratcheting up the abuse. They’re now using their tame press to imply he supports terrorists, re-running the British state’s war with the IRA and ridiculing his personal qualities. The aim is not to convince waverers so much as shore up the Tory vote and prevent further defections. This is a high-risk strategy as it depends on ensuring the same questions aren’t asked of Theresa May.

The key polls come this weekend when we’ll know whether the gap continued to close this week. At present the few polls published with fieldwork since the 25th suggest it’s stabilising. In order to win however, Labour needs, both this week and next, to gain support as it did last week. This is unlikely as it nears its historic recent peak. (Last week it was five points higher than Miliband’s score in 2015).

Therefore, it now depends on the Tory vote slipping. But here Labour faces a long-term problem in the proportion of over-65s who intend to vote Tory. A solid 60% or so of pensioners are sticking stubbornly with the Tories. This lump remains unmoved by May’s U-turns, more expensive social care, the collapse of the NHS and the promised end to safeguarding their pensions, having done relatively well out of recent Tory Governments. Thirty years of neo-liberal conditioning, relentless authoritarian British nationalist brainwashing and the lack of an alternative have done their work well and produced a politics of deference and a collective resignation that results in a perhaps wearisome but nonetheless dutiful Conservative cross on the ballot paper.

Labour’s only chance lies in previous non-voters confounding the pollsters and turning out to vote in larger numbers. Or in tactical voting.

A three or four week election campaign is hardly enough time to convince the poor and dispossessed to stop voting against their own interests. Or to persuade them to give up their cynicism about a political class (Tory, Labour and Lib Dem) that has royally stuffed them for the best part of 40 years. It’s going to take more than the patience of St Jeremy when being savaged by Oxbridge-trained journos to overturn that. Why should they believe that Labour has suddenly changed its spots and offers a credible alternative? Indeed, if the polls can be believed, non-voters in 2015 are as likely to be intending to vote Tory now as Labour.

As for tactical voting, this will only have a marginal impact of a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies in the absence of any encouragement from the Labour and Lib Dem party leaderships.

Things might have been different. There’s a lot of what ifs floating around. Such as …

  • What if the parliamentary Labour Party had united behind Corbyn last year instead of using the Brexit vote to stab him in the back?
  • What if Labour could have become less arrogant and tribalist, able to move into the twenty-first century and recognise the need for a new politics, one more open to other forces?
  • What if Labour had embraced proportional representation?

But it hasn’t. So it won’t (win, that is). And of course, had it done these things Theresa May would never have been advised to call an election in the first place.


Corbyn’s crew enter Cornish lists: Labour candidates named

In a brilliant bit of timing and a blaze fizzle of publicity, the Labour Party quietly announced its ‘Cornwall’ general election candidates a week ago. This was just as the TMaybot’s team descended on Cornwall to bark ‘strong and stable’ as much as they could at the travelling media circus while locking local reporters in a small room. Only a few days later Labour’s announcement wasn’t exactly front page news in the press on the day of the local elections. Perhaps it was in the ‘volunteers wanted’ section.

So who are the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil who will lead the ‘Cornwall’ masses to the sunny uplands of Corbynia, a curious mixture of the 1970s and 1940s, a place where everyone is friendly and smile at each other all day while earnestly not making up their minds about Brexit.

Anyone volunteering to be Labour candidate in the two eastern constituencies must have a strong death wish. North Cornwall is the most torrid territory for Labour, which just managed to save its deposit there in 2015. Their candidate this time is Joy Bassett, an Anglican lay minister in Bodmin who works at the family’s solicitors’ firm. She’ll be trying not to get squeezed by the Lib Dems (an awful fate at the best of times.)

The young Labour candidate in South East Cornwall made news last time around by disappearing on holiday with his mum halfway through the campaign. Traditionally, Labour in South East Cornwall has turned to Plymouth as a useful store of potential candidates and this time is no exception. Their more credible candidate comes in the shape of 59 year old Gareth Derrick who lives in Ivybridge. You may remember – well, you probably won’t – that he was Labour’s candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016.

Gareth’s experience of 36 years in the Royal Navy, where he ended up as a commander, and a subsequent business background in management consultancy, defence contracting and a ‘development’ company should enable him to stand up well to Sheryll Murray, if he gets the chance. Labour in South East Cornwall are actually only 4,000 votes behind the Lib Dems, who have looked on helplessly as the social basis of Liberalism in the constituency – the chapel and the Cornish working class – has disintegrated. The area has suffered large-scale gentrification, which has transformed it into a safe Tory seat.

In St Austell & Newquay and in St Ives, Labour also came fourth in 2015 and with very similar proportions of the vote – 9-10% – as in the South East. Kevin Neil in St Austell & Newquay is described as a ‘former resident’ who’s been back working in Cornwall since 2016. Kevin believes in democratic socialism and is working with Momentum trying to introduce such ideas to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In St Ives Labour has chosen Chris Drew, a Cornish born and bred community worker and scion of a well-known Penzance family. Chris says he will offer a ‘real alternative’. It’ll be interesting however to see how much effort Labour puts into this seat, in the face of Lib Dem Andrew George’s desperate pleas for a ‘progressive alliance’. There are still 4,500 Labour votes up for grabs and George needs as many of those as possible to stand any chance at all against the fundamentalist-Brexit margins of Cornish politics.

Labour’s best two performances in 2015 came in Truro & Falmouth, where they scored 15% and almost beat the Lib Dems into second place, and Camborne and Redruth, where they did beat the Lib Dems (into fourth place) and got 25% of the vote. In Truro & Falmouth Jayne Kirkham is their candidate. She moved to Falmouth in 2006 and is a Labour member because she ‘believes in equality’. For her sake, let’s hope there are some redistributive policies with real teeth in their manifesto then.

Camborne and Redruth is Labour’s only realistic hope, but it’s still a very slim one. Trailing George Eustice by 7,000 votes in 2015, they need to ruthlessly squeeze every last Lib Dem vote, given the 7,000 Ukip voters who will, it’s reliably reported, have no Ukip candidate to vote for and will turn like sheep to what they think is a ‘strong and stable’ sheepdog but which turns out to be a ravenous wolf that’ll eat them alive.

Labour’s candidate has to be an improvement on Michael Foster, who they cruelly inflicted on the long-suffering local citizenry last time. This time they’re putting up a local resident who, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a second home. Graham Winter works as a senior advisor in waste management, a useful training for the House of Commons one might have thought. Born in Barnsley, he moved to Camborne in 2005 and is involved in various local activities.

Postscript: the Liberal Democrats in Camborne and Redruth are still keeping the identity of their candidate under wraps, while their websites seem to have been last updated in 2010. Here’s a suggestion for them – save your money and don’t bother.

What to look for in the Welsh local elections

On Thursday voters in Wales and Scotland will elect their local councillors. By popular demand from the Cornish masses (well, one of them anyway), I’ve been persuaded to do a blog on our Celtic compatriots as they troop wearisomely to the polls. Four times within two years in Scotland! Whatever would Brenda of Bristol say? Poor dears must be exhausted by this surfeit of democracy. How will they possibly get the energy required to go shopping?

Two aspects complicate matters if we want to compare the Welsh with the English local elections. Wales has unitary local government so all, rather than some, authorities are up for election this year. And the last elections were five years ago, not four, as the 2016 elections were postponed so as not to coincide with the Welsh Assembly vote. (The exception is Ynys Môn, which held its previous election in 2013). Because this was a year before 2013, unlike in England there was no surge of support for Ukip last time either.

In terms of seats here’s the results of the four Welsh local elections since the devolved assembly was set up.

1999 2004 2008 2012
Labour 563 479 (-84) 345 (-134) 580 (+235)
Independents 295 321 (+26) 334 (+13) 298 (-36)
Plaid Cymru 205 175 (-30) 206 (+31) 170 (-36)
Lib Dems 98 146 (+48) 165 (+19) 72 (-93)
Conservative 75 107 (+32) 174 (+67) 105 (-71)
Other 34 35 (+1) 40 (+5) 41 (+1)

Labour has a bit of a problem in Wales. In 2012 it was riding high in the polls, scoring its best result for years. Now polling between 15 and 20% lower, it faces certain losses. The only question is how many. Roger Scully of Cardiff University suggests over 100. On the basis of the polls this looks decidedly over-optimistic from the Labour perspective. Kernowpolitico of Redruth expects a performance more like 2008, which could bring as many as 200 losses.

[reproduced courtesy of MrPenguin20 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
In 2012 Labour won a majority of seats in all south Welsh urban and post-industrial authorities apart from Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On a bad night they could lose all those authorities save Rhondda and Neath Port Talbot. However, the number of Labour candidates has held up well and they may avoid this scenario. No doubt the tabloids will be sharpening their pencils, ready to plunge them into Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses more than 100. Of course, if they do a lot better, those tabloids will no doubt ignore the result while srtill plunging their pencils into Corbyn’s back. Basically, the rule is Labour mustn’t win.

The Tories are riding high in the polls and in a local election poll in Wales amazingly came just two percentage points behind Labour. At the least, they must be expecting to regain their 2008 position, get a majority in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan and make serious gains in places like Newport and Conwy. Their number of candidates is around 10% higher this time, although still well behind Labour. Yet a lot of them don’t seem to be in particularly winnable areas.

If the Tories gain votes and Labour lose, the Lib Dems in Wales might be hoping to sneak through on a minority vote. But a Lib Dem recovery looks less likely than in England. In Wales their poll rating is fairly dismal and a fall of around 15% in the number of Lib Dem candidates doesn’t suggest a party in rude health. Their best hope for gains is probably Cardiff, where they were the largest party before 2012 and where an anti-Brexit stance might bring more dividends.

Plaid has maintained its number of candidates at 583, rather fewer than the Tories but over twice the number of Lib Dems. They’ll be looking to get back over the 200 seat mark, as in 2008. Yet in many authorities their presence is limited. Indeed, in 10 of Wales’ 22 local authorities they have fewer councillors pro rata than MK does in Cornwall. Their strength is still heavily focused on Cymru Cymraeg (with the exception of Caerffili and the Rhondda) and their main hopes lie in their traditional heartland – Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion, Gywnedd and Ynys Môn.

Ukip is standing more candidates this time – 80. But this is many fewer than the other parties, or Independents for that matter, who are contesting more wards than any party other than Labour. In 2012 Ukip won two seats. It’s unlikely to do much better this time. Meanwhile, the Greens have around the same number of candidates as Ukip and will be crossing their fingers desperate to secure their first Welsh local councillor since 1999.

This may be the last local elections under a first past the post format, as the Welsh Government is toying with the idea of introducing PR for local government elections. Although it’s confusing matters somewhat by maybe letting local authorities decide. So can we expect any remaining Labour-run councils to resist PR and stick with the Victorian system? A test of their essential conservatism looms.

The state of the others. Should MK stand in the general election?

We’ve seen who the Lib Dem candidates will be in June’s general election, with one exception. The situation at Camborne-Redruth is unclear. Julia Goldsworthy is definitely ruled out. Yet Lib Dem insiders are quoted in the West Brit as claiming that ‘the party has chosen all its candidates in Cornwall’. So if that’s the case, who’s the mysterious sixth candidate? And why is he or she being kept a secret? Rumours circulating in the constituency claim it’s a councillor not a million miles from Illogan.

The state of our once-great country. Unknown man stalked by banner-waving fanatics.

But that may be fake news deliberately spread by Labour, whose candidate is presumably as I write being selected hundreds of miles away in Exeter or Bristol. If you were a member and could have dreamt up an answer to questions like ‘what makes you a great campaigner’, you too could have applied to become Labour’s candidate. Too late now though, as the deadline was last Sunday. There must be several seats in Cornwall that will struggle to appear as the applicants’ ‘preferred constituency’, unless they were feeling especially suicidal.

What about the other minor parties? The Greens are off the block, announcing over a week ago on Twitter (though strangely nowhere else that I can discover) that Amanda Pennington from Wadebridge would be fighting Truro & Falmouth. This makes sense as that was the constituency which gave them their best result last time around. They’re meeting today to discuss whether to stand in St Ives. Meanwhile, nothing has been heard from Ukip, who may be fully occupied trying to defend their single seat on Cornwall Council and coming up with more policies to restore the 1950s.

Should MK stand? The party is quite properly waiting until the more important Cornwall Council elections are out of the way before deciding on what it will do, which gives it just a week to spring into frenetic action.

Even at the best of times the party has to contend with a system rigged so blatantly against it, the most absurd aspect being the demand it stands candidates in 89 constituencies in order to obtain a party political broadcast, that it’s beyond ludicrous. There was already an argument that, until we have a fair voting system, MK shouldn’t bother throwing away money on Westminster elections but focus on the Cornish level. The danger with this is that, given a Westminster-centric media, it would probably lead to even greater marginalisation.

To be taken as a serious contender, MK has to stand in one or two constituencies. The obvious place is St Austell & Newquay, where Dick Cole is a well-known candidate and the party has built a level of support. However, even here, expressions of sympathy don’t extend to sufficient actual votes at the parliamentary level. What about the rest of Cornwall? Here’s one scenario.

MK tries to cut a deal with the Greens. It stays out of Truro and east Cornwall as long as the Greens give it a clear run in St Austell. At St Ives it takes up Andrew George’s suggestion of a progressive alliance and publicly backs him, although calling on Lib Dem voters to reciprocate that in St Austell and one other … for instance Camborne-Redruth??

The thinking has to be long-term. It looks as if the election after this one will be 2022, with or without a new devonwall constituency. By that time, the massive Tory majority and the elective dictatorship it brings will have hopefully become so discredited that people start turning to an alternative. So positioning and establishing a presence in 2017 is critical.

Camborne-Redruth is the most ‘Cornish’ constituency in identity terms. It’s also the only Cornish constituency which is neither a safe Tory seat nor a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. Traditionally a three-way marginal, tactical voting was always questionable here. Predictable calls to vote tactically for Labour are unreal in the context of the media demonisation of Corbyn and the stubborn failure of the Labour leadership to make any concessions to the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’. Moreover, the Labour candidate is as yet unknown and may be as bad as Michael Foster was.

The Lib Dem could well be equally hopeless. In addition, it’s possible Ukip will leave ex-Ukip member and staunch pro-Brexiteer George Eustice alone. Which means a lot of Ukip votes will be up for grabs. That can’t all vote Tory can they? (Stop whimpering! [ed.]) If the Greens don’t stand then MK could end up being the most credible alternative to Eustice. Watch this space.

Corbyn’s Labour: delectation or distraction?

The unexpected personality cult that has developed around Jeremy Corbyn has both positive and negative aspects. Positively, it reflects a groundswell of support for a new kind of politics, more honest, more open. Many look forward to a politics that can root out the malign and corrupt, over-powerful ‘traditional’ influences, from the media, through corporate lobbyists to the City. Others wait impatiently for a politics that can confront the narrow economistic agenda of neoliberalism and the greed it feeds.

On the other hand, Corbynism is formless and vague, more a well-meaning yearning for a better world than a coherent strategy for change. Corbyn himself seems rooted in the 1980s left and has yet to convince he is capable of transforming the rusting hulk of the Labour Party into a streamlined vessel of radical change.

The jury has to remain out on the Labour Party’s capacity to act as the midwife for any ‘new move’ in British politics. While the party is inviting submissions on policy from people beyond its boundaries, there is little evidence as yet of a fundamental shift in its values. Meanwhile, the embittered rump of the parliamentary party have few alternatives to neoliberal economics or support for Trident, are lukewarm on devolution and appear to have little awareness of the issue of climate change and the implications it has for our addiction to fossil-fuelled ‘growth’.

From the outside, whether right or left, too many in the Labour Party still seem wedded to tribalist politics. They cling desperately to the delusion that Labour can wrest power away from the Tories alone, with no need to emerge from its bunker or engage in a radically new politics (as opposed to new policies). Many Labour folk appear to find it difficult to shake off an arrogant and/or condescending authoritarianism in their relations with progressive forces outside the party.

If the Labour Party can’t deliver then all that Corbynism offers is a massive distraction from the long-term struggle to remove the toxic Tories. Energies that could be directed into grassroots struggles or other parties will be sapped in years of internal Labour machine politics and internecine (and obscure) institutional wrangling that will be of absolutely no interest to the majority of voters, whose understanding of politics these days seems to have plumbed new depths.

Electorally, prospects do not look good for Labour. A number of factors, some external, some internal, suggest it faces an uphill battle to appeal to voters, even if Corbyn’s circle can overcome their vocal opponents within the party.

Externally, Labour will lose out from the regular boundary redistributions between elections that are now the norm, the last tired gasp of an electoral system that became unfit for purpose in the 1920s. Regular boundary changes will consolidate the Tories’ ability to transform 40% or less of the votes into massive parliamentary majorities. Strangely therefore, why is Labour so reluctant to make proportional representation a central part of its policy plank?

The structure of party competition also works against Labour. The Liberal Democrats are living evidence of the short-term memory of the British people as they recover from their traumatic coalition caper. As long as they offer a safe home for a soft protest vote, anti-Tory voters will be tempted into the meaningless charade of voting Lib Dem.

Third, the BBC and the press, even the purportedly liberal Guardian, are hell-bent on removing Corbyn and will go on encouraging Labour dissidents, while rubbishing their leader. Expect the current ‘hard left’ and ‘anti-semitic’ abuse to pale into nothing as soon as a real prospect of an election begins to appear on the horizon. Corbyn’s Labour can expect consistently biased media treatment and little opportunity to discuss its policy initiatives sensibly or rationally. So how does it intend to counter this?

And then we have the internal factors militating against Labour success. The first is the patent lack of party unity. The traditional, conservative power-brokers of the party are refusing to bow out gracefully and loath to give up the reins of power to activists at the grassroots. Egged on by their media chums, they’ll fight the internal war as long as it takes. While Labour dithers over whether it’s a socialist or a social democratic, or a centrist party in this way, voters will continue to be uncertain what they’re being asked to vote for.

In such a context they may well vote for the Lib Dems. They’ve already deserted en masse for the SNP in Scotland, And in England of course (and Wales and Cornwall) there’s also Ukip or another far right party. Corbyn’s relaxed attitude to population growth and immigration – he’s ‘unconcerned’ by the numbers – is unlikely to play well outside London and a few liberal cities. Many will see it as smug, the views of a comfortable metropolitan elite out of touch with the realities of everyday life for those who, rightly or wrongly, feel ‘left behind’ and powerless in the face of capitalist restructuring. Unless Corbyn’s Labour Party can come up with a credible (and progressive) alternative on immigration and population growth they’re leaving the field open for Ukip and similar parties.

In a context therefore of an antiquated electoral system in which non-Tory voters are scattered over a number of parties, intense media hostility, internal disunity and the presence of the soft alternative of the Lib Dems and the populist alternative of Ukip, the task of Labour seems formidable to say the least.

Its only chance is to transcend the old politics and embrace the zeitgeist of the new, opening out to others and seeking a progressive electoral alliance. An early test of this arrives in the shape of next year’s local elections, now not much more than six months off. In Cornwall particularly, Labour’s historic weakness means a Labour vote is often wasted and merely serves to split the opposition to the Tories. Is there any sign that Labour is looking to join a progressive alliance, opening out to parties such as MK or the Greens, or even to elements among the Liberal Democrats, in order to maximise the anti-Tory potential in next May’s elections? Or will it stick with its old, familiar, tribalist instincts?

Disaster or opportunity? The prospects for Corbynism

The plan was straightforward enough. In order to portray the impression that the Party was not utterly bereft of radical ideas and wedded to austerity politics, they’d kindly permit the ageing leftist Jeremy Corbyn to stand in their leadership election. The cunning wheeze would show that Labour still had a left-wing, albeit one muzzled to the point of invisibility. This could be allowed to put its views over, only to be promptly trashed by the sensible majority, steered helpfully by the media. That should have been all that was needed to keep the deluded and gullible socialist minority in the party happy, surely.

Except that it backfired. In fact, the ‘sensible’ parliamentary ‘realists’ of the Labour Party have surpassed themselves in cocking things up so royally. Instead of getting back to unalloyed Blairism after the vacillations of Miliband, they’re now lumbered with something even worse – someone who appears to think principles are important.

With the help of a one-person, one vote system and the ease of joining up and getting a vote, the Blairites have been swept away by a tsunami of those who think having principles might actually be preferable to power without principles and the mindless embrace of neo-liberalism that today passes for social democracy. With a more selective electorate than that at the Scottish referendum last year, amazingly the politics of hope won out over the politics of fear, despite a predictable torrent of increasingly desperate and bizarre media portrayals of Corbyn as the spawn of Satan. Even Ukip voters were found to be keen on Jeremy – anyone but the same tired, old parliamentary consensus crew it seems.

So should Corbyn’s leadership of Labour be regarded as a good thing or a bad thing? As an unreconstructed lifelong libertarian socialist who last voted Labour (and first to come to that) in February 1974, I had little interest in Labour’s leadership popularity contest. And I certainly never contemplated forking out my three quid to help breathe life (if that’s what it is) into its decaying corpse. But from this cynical standpoint I’d say Corbyn’s election was potentially both good and bad.

It could all easily end in tears and on balance probably will. It could be just another half-assed lurch to the ‘left’ by Labour. This will engender the usual naive and myopic enthusiasm from broader progressive elements outside the party. As in the early 1980s, people will rejoin (or join) in their thousands. But the danger is that Labour will remain the same old, centralist, arrogant, English nationalist, state-centric dinosaur, its essential parliamentary politics unchanged.

Incidentally, a more leftist Labour Party better fulfils a useful function for capital and the Establishment. It provides an outlet for disaffection but an essentially tamed and toothless one. Unremittingly savaged by the corporate press from Day One, Corbyn’s Labour will be ruthlessly caricatured as ‘hard’ left, as it is is already, irrespective of any detailed policies it comes up with. The last thing we should expect is careful dissection and discussion of policies in the media. Furthermore, Corbyn and his supporters will be surrounded by the unreconstructed mass of the parliamentary party and besieged by grumbling and plots from an internal second front from the word go. The only way out of this conundrum is to open Labour up and stop confining its role to that of Her Majesty’s ‘loyal opposition.’

If it grasps the opportunity Corbynite Labour could kickstart a genuinely new politics. To do so Labour has to prove that it’s changed its spots. For the next election this means making proportional representation a central plank and the first reform it will undertake. Not AV, but genuine PR, preferably the single transferable vote as for the Irish Dail, the Stormont Assembly or Scottish local councils, a system that reduces the power of the party apparatus. This should be coupled with a more open practice. Local alliances with the Greens, SNP, Plaid and yes, even MK, would give other progressive parties a free run in some places. The Socialist Party in France has done this for decades; it can’t be beyond the wit of Labour to see its advantages. With a PR policy and a properly inclusive and open practice in place, Labour would gain the moral right to call on those of us who don’t vote Labour to lend them our votes this once.

Of course, once PR were in place we would go back to voting Green/nationalist or whatever and the Labour Party itself would no doubt split into its separate social democratic and ‘socialist’ components. But this would only be a more accurate reflection of the pluralism of British politics. On the other hand, if Labour doesn’t grasp this opportunity then its usual tactical ineptitude is likely to guarantee an electoral massacre of the innocents in 2020. This will encompass a (temporary) obliteration of alternative leftist parties (with the possible exception of the SNP), the disillusion of another generation of dreamers and the continuation of a hard-faced Tory hegemony for the next decade or two at least. A high price to pay just to keep the Labour Party intact.

The unbearable daftness of tactical voting

At about this time in every general election there occurs a curious little ritual. After condemning the Labour Party for being insufficiently radical over the previous four or five years, Polly Toynbee in the Guardian calls on people to put on their nose pegs and vote Labour after all. This is supposed to be necessary to keep the Tories out. Sure enough, this last week, out came the nose pegs yet again as, for the fourth election in a row, Toynbee wheeled out her increasingly threadbare plea.

Run over by the Labour juggernaut?
Run over by the Labour juggernaut?

This time, more specifically, she called on Green Party voters in Tory-Labour marginals not to vote Green but to cast their vote for Labour. This may be a slight improvement on a blanket call to everyone to vote Labour but is still deeply flawed. The call to vote tactically is just plain wrong for five main reasons.

First it’s extremely conservative. In two ways. How will we ever get a reformed voting system if we continue to vote for our second choice and allow Labour a majority? As in 2001, 2005 and 2010 we’re again urged to don nose pegs by the metropolitan liberal chaterrati. But doing so in 2001 and 2005 did not bring the much-needed reforms. Why should they do so now? It’s conservative in a second way too. Perhaps because voters on the left are more aware of the electoral context, they seem more prone to fall for the tactical voting scam than voters on the right.

Allowing the far right to rack up votes that aren’t balanced on the left would be a big mistake and brings us to the second reason why tactical voting is an error. It’s illogical. While it may make sense to vote tactically in the short term to stop the Tories, it hardly makes sense in the long-term. In a first past the post system if you can’t get seats then get votes. The more votes there are for the Greens, MK, TUSC or whatever, the more likely a Labour government would have to take their views into account rather than go on patronising/ignoring them.

It’s also important in the long-term to position your party in second place to have a chance of winning next time around. If you always vote tactically this can never happen. In fact, if voters had always voted tactically, then of course Labour would never have displaced the Liberals as the main opposition to the Tories.

Third, for most voters tactical voting is meaningless. There’s only around 100 or so constituencies, out of 632 in Britain, where tactical voting makes sense even in its own short-term terms. In most of southern England with its massive Tory majorities and in most of urban, northern England, with its equally massive Labour majorities, tactical voting makes no difference at all.

Fourth, it’s often a wasted vote. We rejected the explicit alternative vote, but parliamentarians still insist we have to exercise it informally. If we vote for anything but Labour/Conservative we’re told we’re in reality voting for the Tories/Labour and not for whatever we’re actually voting for. Which seems to make the simple business of casting a vote unduly complicated. In the absence of a proper proportional system it’s far easier to vote for our first preference, especially as every extra vote for that preference makes it less likely views you agree with can be ignored (again) after the election is over.

And where are we supposed to draw the line? We have marginal seats in Cornwall, but here a vote for Labour makes it more likely the Tories win. So here, appeals to Green and MK voters to vote tactically to stop the Tories logically means voting Lib Dem. Are Labour supporters calling on us to vote Lib Dem here then? Even the Guardianistas are now drawing the line at a vote for the discredited Tory-lite Lib Dems, who loyally supported the austerity budgets of the coalition government. Moreover, when two of our three Lib Dem MPs were indistinguishable from the Tories in supporting NHS ‘reform’ and the Devonwalling of our historic border, there seems little point in voting Lib Dem. From an MK perspective in particular, the party will only be able to break through over the dead body of the Liberal Democrats. Voting for them just to stop the Tories getting in is perverse in the extreme.

Finally, the call led by the Guardianistas for Greens, socialists and minority nationalists to vote Labour in Tory-Labour marginals is breathtakingly arrogant. Labour politicians are still living in the 1950s and dreaming of a two-party system. They seem to think they have some sort of God-given right to demand the support of progressives, despite embracing destructive neo-liberal policies since the 1990s.

In fact, there were two simple things Labour could have done to encourage the tactical voting it now belatedly calls for. In France the Socialist Party usually gives the Greens and Communists a free run in a few constituencies even though in most seats they compete against each other. This could also happen here. Labour could have stood aside and given the Greens a free run in Brighton Pavilion, Norwich South and Bristol West. If they’d done so, their calls for tactical voting would have some moral credibility.

But what did they do? On the contrary, they made Caroline Lucas’s seat one of their targets. And last year when they suddenly got frightened about a possible Green surge they set up a unit to ‘deal with’ the ‘threat’ from the Greens. With this record their calls for Greens to vote for them are a brazen cheek.

The other simple thing Labour could do to encourage tactical voting for them would be to promise the first act of a Labour Government would be to introduce a genuine PR voting system. If they did that progressives could consider voting for them once. Although Labour’s small problem might be that they’d never vote for them again afterwards.

[PS: In the unlikely event of anyone considering voting for Ukip reading this, just replace Labour with Conservative and Green/MK/socialist with Ukip/BNP]