Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The death of tactical voting

I strongly agree with the Liberal party that the current electoral system has served the interests of the Labour and Conservative parties to a much greater extent than it has benefited the electorate. This has reached the stage now where, since both Labour and Conservative are pitching themselves as close to the midstream of the voters as they dare without alienating their sources of funding, it actually doesn't make a great deal of difference whether Labour or Conservative are elected. From that point of view, the Liberal party do represent something different - a party which, as far as I can tell, is grounded in ideology (even if from time to time their ideology doesn't sit comfortably with me) rather than trying to simply stand as close to the centre of the mainstream as they can.

As Labour and Conservative have become more similar, their campaigning has become (in my opinion) more slight, negative and irrelevant. Lacking anything of substance to offer themselves, for much of the time they simply point to caricatures of their main opponent. "We are the mainstream," say the Conservatives, "we support the values that you, the voter, support. If you re-elect Labour, you will elect a socialist monster which has the values of the unions - big government, high spending, state control." Well, true - but that's all there already, and the likelihood of the Conservatives politically being able to do anything substantial to change that is pretty small. "We are the mainstream," say Labour, "we support the values that you, the voter, support. If you elect Conservative, you will elect a capitalist monster that is indifferent to the individual, that will cut spending and serve the interests of the rich." Well, true - but that's all there already, and the likelihood of Labour actually managing to do anything substantial to change that is also pretty small.

It has been a shock to both of these parties that the Liberal party should have started to appear to be a viable alternative. It took the presentation of the three parties next to each other in the TV debates (most significantly the first one), to make it obvious that the Liberal party had a different approach to the other two parties. This has been the case for years - the Liberal party has tended to have a larger number of members ideologically committed to it than the other two, who operate a lot more on the basis of tribal/cultural identity. But only in the last few years has the Liberal party seriously looked able effectively to wield the influence that it will hopefully be able to following May 6.

So the electorate are being encouraged by the Liberals to vote for their hopes and beliefs, rather than against the party they don't want. And a much larger number of people are prepared to give that perspective a fair hearing - the clash between red and blue seems clearly sterile and more about party interests than care for the electorate. There is also the issue that the larger the percentage of the popular vote that the Lib Dems are able to collect, the greater should be their ability to influence the parliamentary agenda as part of a coalition - over matters such as electoral and ethical reform, which have the power to properly engage the public with politics again.

One of the oddities about what has happened, though, is that locally, the Liberals are encouraging similar sorts of behaviour that they are challenging nationally. "Don't vote for Labour," their material says, "it's a wasted vote in Surrey. Vote for the party that has a chance of beating the Conservatives." If you are a Labour supporter here, you should vote for the Liberal party as this gives you the best chance of getting rid of the Conservative MP. Don't vote for who you want, vote against who you don't want....

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