7 November 2019

The ‘Remain Alliance’ should beware telling voters who to vote for

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One of the few safe predictions about this General Election is that tactical voting will be more important than ever before. That is due to the fragmentation of our politics. Party allegiance has been eroded. For many voters, the principal way we identify ourselves at present is as Brexiteers or Remainers, with choice of party reflecting that.

Thanks to the profusion of technology at our disposal, there is now more information than ever for voters to make an informed choice – betting odds, personal ratings and polling figures can be sliced and diced to our heart’s content. While there’s much doom-mongering about fake news and the nefarious influence of tech, electors are more empowered than ever to check facts and assess probabilities. We can each decide what our priorities are and focus our investigation accordingly.

But that same lack of deference and erosion of traditional loyalty means that parties who try to fix the game with electoral pacts may find the strategy backfires. The Lib Dems, the Greens and Plaid Cymru, who have come up with a ‘Remain Alliance’-type deal, should bear this in mind.

For one thing, it is arrogant to try and allocate votes. True, it worked out fine in a previous December. election, but it was over a century ago. In the ‘Coupon Election’ of 1918 then prime minister David Lloyd George sent letters of endorsement to those Liberal and Conservative candidates who supported the coalition government. The number of Labour MPs only advanced from 42 to 57. These days, I would suggest we have rather less inclination to tug our forelocks.

The same holds true for Conservatives furious with Nigel Farage for standing 600-odd Brexit Party candidates. Does he not see that “splitting the vote” of those wanting us to leave the EU risks an appalling unpatriotic Corbyn-led coalition? It might not be an overall Labour majority but if it was beholden to the Scottish Nationalists would that not be even worse? My instinct is to share the exasperation, and it is entirely legitimate to warn loudly and vigorously of the consequences of backing Farage’s party. The point is that voters who accept that message a simple option –  resist the urge to vote for the Brexit Party and back the Tories.

What’s more, it’s naive to assume that all Brexiteers can corralled into voting Conservative. It does not follow that if the Brexit Party did stand down and that Farage issued a decree to back the Tories that it would be heeded. Labour Leavers might feel that urging them to vote Tory was like asking a vegan to tuck into a steak and kidney pie. The choice for such voters, realistically, is sticking with Labour, making a protest and voting Brexit Party, or simply not voting at all. For all those reasons – and notwithstanding the personal animosity between Farage and Dominic Cummings – there will be no pact between the Brexit Party and the Conservatives. If there was it would damage both parties.

Among the Continuity Remainers, however, A backroom deal has come to fruition, albeit a limited one. There are 650 parliamentary constituencies and the arrangement only applies to 60. Labour are not involved and will be standing throughout England, Scotland and Wales. But the Lib Dems, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru have been haggling away and divided up the seats. Unsurprisingly the sitting MPs for those three parties are mostly included. The politicians have given priority to themselves.  (There’s also a curious anomaly in calling this a ‘Remain Alliance’. As the Independent‘s Jon Stone has noted, many of the seats in question are already held by uber-Remainers such as Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.)

Even leaving aside their shallow self-interest, the three parties involved are displaying a deluded sense of entitlement. They may suffer a rude awakening when voters react to being effectively told how they should vote.

Consider, for instance, Lib Dem supporters in Caerphilly. They are to be denied a candidate and told to vote for Plaid Cymru. What if they don’t want to see the break up on the UK? What if they are British patriots who would be horrified at Wales breaking away. They might resolve to vote Conservative, Labour or Brexit Party. They might feel so angered by the Lib Dems casting aside their unionist credentials like an old pair of socks. Perhaps they might resolve not to vote for the party again – even if it might condescend to offer them the chance at some future date.

Or spare a thought for a loyal Liberal Democrat who lives in Dulwich and West Norwood, now told to vote for the Green Party. The Lib Dems like to see themselves as moderates, in between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson. But the Green party is on the extreme left. Its leaders have expressed “solidarity” with Cuba and Venezuela. It wishes to overthrow capitalism. If it was going to have a pact with anyone, the Corbynistas would be a better fit.

It follows that Plaid and Green Party enthusiasts might offer some equivalent backchat about being told to vote Lib Dem – a party that some might remember used to be in coalition with the Conservatives.

The upshot of all this is that tactical voting and electoral pacts might seem to be part of the same approach. But while there is a logical connection the methods are quite different. Tactical voting is exercising power from the bottom up. It means taking decision-making from the politicians and the parties. Electoral pacts are trying to manage us from the top down. It’s about the cynical old politics of power brokers and stitch-ups. Voters are not fools and treating them as such will just annoy them. Those parties conceited enough to indulge in this may well find they are punished rather than rewarded at the polling stations.

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Harry Phibbs is a freelance journalist