Tactical Hoping

It would be a fool who would deny the political logic of Teresa May calling a snap election for June. That logic is, has, and always will be about Tory party and individuals’ self-interest: politics for the Tories is about getting into power and of course they will do so again, and with an increased majority, because while we all gnash our teeth at the inaccuracy of recent opinion polls in truth not one in recent decades has been more that 6% away from the final result on polling day. Recent polling errors have been largely attributable to regional variations (Trump, Cameron’s 2015 victory), the inability to assess novel issues and tap into how these connect with key demographics (the Brexit referendum), the last vestiges of conscience and social desirability in “shy” Tory and UKIP voters (Major, 1992), and of course the peculiarities of the first-past-the post system.

So the Tories will win, with an increased majority, and lots of awful things will follow from that for the NHS, schools, universities (there are already mutterings about cutting research budgets), the care system, people with disabilities and those deemed to be aliens! But that doesn’t mean there is no point in voting. There is every point in voting. But let’s not delude ourselves that tactical voting will make much sense. Because, in the end, a great deal of tactical voting is a mass exercise in game theory; for every Labour supporter shifting their vote to the Lib Dems (even if “we are all sinners”), there could be a floating Lib Dem/Tory thinking they might try and offset that with a vote for Teresa May. You don’t know. You can’t guess or play the system so easily, and the reality is that those who think you can are lacking a fundamental awareness that others’ perspectives are often different from our own or hold a belief that somehow they are much cleverer than others and can outwit them.


You’ll notice here I am writing this from a particular political perspective. I am tribal Labour, although deeply depressed at the current state of my party and the left across the Western world generally, and those are my underlying values. The left, here and elsewhere, lacks a persuasive narrative – it needs to find one soon before the far right start to fill in the gaps. That lack of narrative means this election is all about the Tory party and how to handle opposition to that. this explains the preponderance of “how to vote” guides to “get the Tories out”. No one wants that more than me. But I do also know that there needs to be a positive and coherent message for change to win. I can’t see one yet – maybe one will emerge.

For tactical voting to work you need the alliance to be open, out there and on the table. That could make sense in genuine marginals. So a grand coalition – Lib Dems standing down in Tory/Labour marginals, Labour doing the same in Lib Dem/Tory marginals, and everyone just giving Caroline Lucas a pass in Brighton – could work! But no party would do that – that is an electoral suicide note! So unless you are convinced of your mind-reading powers, don’t really care, or fancy taking a pretty weighty gamble, the inescapable logic is to vote for the party you want to see win.

There’s more mileage in getting the large number of non-voters, or not registered voters to sign up and vote. This in particular applied to younger or new voters. The numbers here could shift results, but note a couple of caveats. First, the June date will likely be outside of term time for many university students, so while a handful of university town constituencies might achieve critical mass if university students turn out and vote en bloc for Labour (or the Greens – cannot imagine why a single student would vote Lib Dem after what happened last time, that really would be a case of turkeys voting for Christmas). These mostly middle class students will likely return home to vote in Tory stronghold constituencies and again, their influence will be scuppered by the first-past-the-post system. Second, it’s missing the fundamental issue of disengagement in politics among a significant chunk of the youth.

Of course, younger voters should be encouraged to register. Everyone should. There was a significant push for this in the run up to the Brexit vote but, largely, it failed to get sufficient numbers to register. As we know that was a key factor in the eventual, disastrous outcome. My social media feeds have been awash this week with messages to get young people to register. Great, but too little and way too late: the problem is that the chunk of younger voters who are failing to register are doing so because they are disengaged. And, more to the point sisters and brothers, they are not following you on twitter. They are on instagram and Snapchat.


Engineering change in voting patterns and demographics is complex and sending out reactionary messaging in the echo chamber is not a substitute for hard work and purposeful, long term activity to address fundamental issues in the political and social system. Virtue signalling is at best useless and at worse damaging narcissism which does everything for the individual making the post and nothing to solve the problem.

Just vote Labour. And to finish, here’s a recent article on the maths of tactical voting, if you remain unconvinced… https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/apr/20/tactical-voting-to-beat-the-tories-does-the-maths-equal-a-coalition