musings > politics

Why I’m (Probably) Against Tactical Voting

25 Apr, 2017 · 6 min read

If you’re in the UK and/or interested in UK politics, you’ll probably have seen the website telling you who to vote for in the General Election if you want to keep the Conservatives out of power.

I really don’t know how I feel about this.

I get it, of course I do. I understand the desire to replace Theresa May with someone — anyone, really — who has slightly more of a soul.

But, who the hell am I voting for? The mentality behind tactical voting is so very one-dimensional. It calls for you to abandon your right to choose which party you want to represent you. You objectively don’t care about where your vote is going, only that it is going to the person who stands the best chance of beating the Tory candidate in your constituency.

It just seems so impure a way of exercising my right to vote. I know that the system is flawed, and so it’s not a huge loss to the integrity of Parliament, but does that make it ok? Our entire system of choosing a government is based on the idea that I choose what I want, not what I don’t want you to have.

The silver lining

So far as I can tell, tactical voting has one major redeeming feature. As there is no strategy behind it beyond ‘don’t let the Conservatives win’, the best case is a hung parliament and subsequent coalition government. Say what you will about the ConDems, as far as reality vs possible nightmare went, they didn’t do too badly.

Maybe I’m more sympathetic to that? I can’t vote for ‘none of the above’, and spoiling my ballot will just get swept under the rug as ‘someone who doesn’t understand how voting works’. I feel as though I should vote — I want to vote, and this gives the best shot at some of the outcomes I want. Pick your battles, right?

It’s the age old political problem — what do you do when the incumbent doesn’t speak for you? People are becoming more informed and more educated on very specific issues. The need for a strong two-party state, powered by partisan politics, has weakened. First Past the Post is supposed to give us an opposition party to reign in the government, and ensure the wider public is spoken for. Labour has been a woefully inadequate at this for a decade now, and in absence of a discussion about electoral reform (you know, another discussion about electoral reform…), so we need a party that can do this inherently. It’s easy to see why a coalition government is the best option on the table.

Sort of…

We got lucky with the last coalition — they formed a government from parties both sides of centre. There is no guarantee that’ll happen again. Voting for who you want in, rather than out, can still send a message. Post-election analysis is better than ever — we can quickly and easily see who was the second and third most popular in each constituency.

A message isn’t really enough though, is it? And I get that. I can’t begrudge people for wanting to try and make a difference to politics.

A brief aside: Our political system

There is a wider issue here: First Past the Post is flawed, archaic and ill-equipped to reflect our interests. As a result, it’s easy to overlook a couple of key things:

  1. We don’t live in a direct democracy. And I don’t mean that in an anarchy-loving, down with the current system way. Referendums aside (that is the grammatically-sound plural form of ‘referendum’, I checked), we’ve never lived in a direct democracy. We have a representative democracy — and the distinction is important. The general public has never had a say on the running of the country. Our job is to choose the people we would like to have a say in doing so. This allows us, the populace, to get on with the day-to-day of our own lives, without having to become experts in foreign policy, macroeconomics, healthcare, transport, education, and any of the myriad other things that go into running a country. It stops us from making uninformed decisions about important issues, because we don’t have the information or the time to consider them.
  2. We don’t vote for a Prime Minister, we vote for a party. As an extension of that, we don’t even get to choose high profile positions like the Cabinet. Our sole decision is our local representative in Parliament. Because of this, the TV debates are a source of fascination to me. On the one hand, I like them because it gives a face to our future PM, and (at least in theory) offers a real-time conversation between ideologies. On the flip side though, we don’t actually get to see the person who is supposed to be representing us, the individual. Unlike, say, France’s Marine Le Pen, who gets to step aside as her party’s leader (albeit temporarily) because French voters are voting for the individual, we aren’t making that choice. It seems strange to me that we put the individual on such a pedestal.

While slightly tangential, these points highlight my overarching issue with tactical voting. At the end of the day, we as citizens are quite disconnected from the political process. I understand the logic behind it — whether I agree is perhaps a separate issue. My point is that we have so little power when it comes to decision-making. Tactical voting, to me, doesn’t help that process. It doesn’t give me, the individual voter, any more power.

So, what now?

I still don’t know what I think about tactical voting. While I stand by my paragraph above, I’m also not naive. I know that, precisely because my vote counts for so little, voting on principle doesn’t necessarily turn into action of any kind. I keep coming back to the notion that exploiting the weakness of First Past The Post to create a coalition government is perhaps a viable use of my vote.

All I really know is that tactical voting is an imperfect answer to an imperfect system. I’m certainly not going to tell you what to do — that’s your prerogative as a constituent. I’m not even going to tell you what I’m going to do (though at this point, that is mostly because I haven’t decided yet).

If you’ll permit me though, I do have one request. Think about it. Think about your decision, regardless of whether you want to vote tactically, as per your values, or not at all. I know we’re getting fatigued, but we really have so few institutionally-recognised ways of making our voice heard. Decide how you want to make yours count.


The Telegraph: Poll tracker and latest odds — some interested statistics from the Telegraph, with links off to further reading Poll tracker and latest odds.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/24/everything-you-need-to-know-uk-general-election — similar to the above, from The Guardian.

Voting Systems used in the UK — information from the Parliament Website on the various types of voting systems we use.

https://uk.isidewith.com/political-quiz — this year’s go-to quiz to give you an idea of which political parties align with your views on various issues (bear in mind that the parties haven’t yet released their manifestos).

https://www.tactical2017.com/ — would seem strange not to include this, the link to find out who you ‘should’ vote for to keep out the Tories, and the spreadsheet it’s based on. You’re all adults, do with this what you want.