Tactical Voting: A Socialist Option

One of the primary reasons the Labour Party gives for voting for it in a General Election is its perennial claim that: ‘A vote for any other party is a vote for the Tories!’ Leaving aside the fact that the Tory Party was dissolved in 1834, this attempt to reduce Parliamentary politics in this country to a choice between the Conservative and Labour parties has been hugely successful, with no other party forming a Government outside a coalition since 1922. And, of course, this argument is designed to keep it this way.

However, there are two arguments against this claim. If Labour’s aim was, as several of its street spectacles have proclaimed, to ‘Get the Tories (sic) out!’, it would form an anti-Conservative front with other Parliamentary parties and, where a candidate for the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the Scottish Nationals or Plaid Cymru had a better chance of taking a seat than Labour, either stand their candidate down or advise Labour voters to vote tactically for any party other than the Conservatives. Labour hasn’t done this, demonstrating that, far from being concerned to save the country from the depredations of a Conservative Government, like every other Parliamentary Party it wants as much executive power as it can gain in its own hands, no matter which party forms a Government.

And by it’s own criteria it is right to do so, because of the second argument against its claim that ‘A vote for anyone but Labour is a vote for the Tories (sic)!’ Contrary to the imaginings of politicians who simply can’t conceive of anything more exciting, General Elections are not won in the five weeks of electioneering leading up to the vote. They’re won (or lost) in the years of policy implementation by their Party between elections, and the Labour Party lost this election years ago.

If Labour couldn’t win the 2017 General Election, held a year after the Conservative Party implemented the most divisive referendum in UK political history, against a sitting Prime Minister with no mandate from the electorate who refused to campaign, and — in case we forget — seven years into a programme of fiscal austerity against the working class that has reduced millions to homelessness and surviving on food banks, then — after a further two-and-a-half years of prevarications about where it stands on Brexit, its abject inability to respond to the accusations of anti-semitism in its party, and its continuing implementation not only of those austerity measures but of the privatisation that is at the heart of its political philosophy — Labour has no chance of winning this one. The polls are unanimously agreed on this. Corbyn had his chance two years ago, and he blew it.

So where does that leave Labour’s claim that ‘A vote for anyone else is a vote for the Tories (sic)’? In tatters, thankfully. What this means is that, if your concern is what Labour’s concern isn’t — that is, to ‘Get the Tories (sic) out!’ — then you can, for example, choose to vote tactically, and back the candidate of any party that has the best chance against the Conservative candidate in your constituency. Alternatively, if you take the advice of such moral stalwarts as Tony Blair, Michael Heseltine and Chuka Ummuna, you can ‘put your country (sic) first’ and vote for the candidate who, either because of their party’s policy — in the case of the Liberal Democrats — or because of their personal commitment to Neo-liberalism, is most likely to vote to Remain within the European Union.

Or there is a third option. In London, the boroughs and constituencies where the demolition of council estates and their redevelopment as market sale properties, the eviction of local businesses and street traders and their replacement with corporate outlets, the closing down and privatisation of community services and the social cleansing of the communities that once used them is most advanced are those in which the Labour Party has a monopoly of representation at both council and parliamentary level: Haringey, Hackney, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon, where the likes of David Lammy, Dianne Abbott, Meg Hillier, Rushanara Ali, Stephen Timms, Margaret Hodge, Neil Coyle, Helen Hayes, Vicky Foxcroft and Steve Reed have sat on their comfortable Labour majorities and done nothing as the Labour council rides roughshod over ‘their’ constituents. We already have a London Labour Mayor fully committed to Labour’s Neo-liberal philosophy and in thrall to the building industry that put him there. If you are opposed to what Labour in power is doing and decide to vote tactically, one option is to try and break up this party monopoly.

As we’ve seen in Lambeth, where the Conservative councillors are opposed to the Labour council’s estate demolition programme; in Westminster, where the Labour councillors are opposed to the Conservative council’s estate demolition programme; in Kingston, where the Liberal Democrat councillors were opposed to the Conservative council’s estate demolition programme until they won the leadership of the council at the last election; and in Richmond, where the councillor from the Green Party that opposes estate demolition in Lambeth is supporting its implementation by the Liberal Democrat council — political parties don’t have principles, on estate demolition or anything else. All they have are policies designed to win them executive power, and which they can and will drop whenever it suits them. If you accept this as an unpalatable but irrefutable truth that experience of the political process verifies time and again, you might consider it important to get candidates from a different political party than the one running the local council into as many seats as possible in Parliament.

I’ve never seen politicians that are otherwise content to remain silent and vote for everything they’re told to by their parties show as much energy and fight when there’s a chance to oppose their political opponents. Scoring points off their playground adversaries — as if in the public school debating societies in which so many of them were groomed — and being awarded by their head boys with a sniff of Ministerial power is the primary motivation of the career politicians that have been selected by their parties to represent us in Parliament. It’s possible, therefore, to use their personal ambition — and the brand allegiance that nurtures that ambition — to disrupt, as much as possible, the Neo-liberal hegemony that reigns in our political system.

Voting tactically doesn’t mean voting to ‘Get the Tories (sic) out!’ It means setting the competing representatives of the different brands of Neo-liberal political parties in Parliament against each other. The growing disillusionment of the British public with those brands over the three-and-a-half-years of Parliamentary inertia over Brexit — while the country has continued to be subjected to austerity, the housing crisis, growing homelessness, rising economic inequality, continued food-bank use, the Grenfell Tower fire and a thousand other signs of a political system in thrall to Neo-liberalism — has only just begun. Whether or not you chose to participate in the spectacle of the General Election, we need to expose the farce of democratic choice we are presented with every few years for what it is: the system by which the ruling class maintains its political, legal, military and cultural power over us, no matter who the electorate thinks it is voting into office. Only when the Parliamentary system is reduced to the ruin it already is will the British people be forced to engage with the real political activity we need, if we are to bring about the socialist alternative that is our only hope of overcoming the political disaster that is awaiting us if we don’t.

Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing

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