The General Election is tomorrow. As most people acknowledge, it’s going to be a hung parliament. YouGov this morning puts Labour on 276 seats, Conservatives on 272, SNP on 52, Lib Dems on 24, “others” on 19, Plaid Cymru on 3, UKIP on 3, and the Greens on 1. It’s a mess, and serves as a convincing argument for a move away from FPTP as soon as possible. Beyond that, however, another debate rages – should left-wingers like me be voting tactically for Labour or should we back other left parties like the SNP, Plaid or Greens?
Part one: Why I am not voting Labour.
Over the last few weeks, it’s been odd watching friends of mine on Facebook, many die-hard socialists or communists or anarchists, who have spent years posting critical articles about Labour, now changing their profiles to “I’m voting Labour” and sharing every vaguely left-wing thing Ed Milliband says. Lots of people I respect are reiterating to me the same old argument about tactical voting. Vote Labour to keep the Tories out. It has to be done. We must not have another Tory government. Owen Jones recently made this case when he spoke at a Labour Club event in Cambridge. He reiterates in an article for the Guardian that a vote for Labour is the only way to combat the cruel society which the Coalition Government has created, citing Labour’s opposition to the Bedroom Tax. Jones argues that unless we vote for Labour, any anti-austerity momentum that Labour has will be lost, the party with shift to the right, and we’ll have another five years of Tory government. It’s a powerful bit of writing, but seems to make some huge assumptions: Labour is not anti-austerity, simply a “lite” form of austerity (Jones himself admits that Labour will maintain austerity, though to the tune of £50 bn less than the Tories).Furthermore, what does Jones mean by Labour moving to the right? Does he mean the Labour leadership (which is still right leaning)? Does he mean the Trade Unions (an unlikely scenario to see them on the right)? Does he mean the Labour left backbenchers? The argument that we must vote for Labour to keep the Tories out sits badly with me, for the reasons that I dislike Labour, and I dislike tactical voting even more…
It’s immensely frustrating to see leftists descending to Labour tribalism when their view on Labour is at stark odds with the Labour reality. Recently, Ed Milliband stated publicly, and bluntly, that he would rather have a Tory government than going into coalition with the SNP. Now, you can argue about whether the SNP are a truly left political group or nasty nationalists till you’re blue in the face (I personally think they’re ok) but let’s examine that statement. The Leader of Labour, the group that opposes the Tories, would rather have the Tories in government, thereby, effectively negating his own purpose, then work with a party which is politically closer to his own, apparently? Now, I’ve seen some leftists argue, rather poorly, that Milliband’s anti-SNP view is based on a belief that if the SNP get into government, we’ll have an Independence Referendum, which the SNP will win, and that will divide the UK’s workers. Nice attempt at justification, but I very much doubt Ed Milliband is reading his Marx before bedtime and trying to develop a class analysis. To me, the refusal to work with the SNP just smacks of buying into a lazy, anti-Scottish hysteria whipped up by the media and the political right. Case in point, (and yes, it is ironic that I cite Jones on this), there is a chance a Tory coalition could be formed involving the DUP, who, frankly, are fucking horrible. Very little hysteria about those bigots getting into power, as far as I can tell. The Jones piece above is actually the only thing I could find which flagged up the DUP as a threat.
I suppose what I’m getting at in what is less a blog article and more the written equivalent of when an anime character goes apeshit, is if Labour is truly that socialist, how is it buying into so many harmful mainstream ideas? Here’s Milliband holding a copy of the Sun, which I’m sure went down wonderfully with Labour voters in Liverpool. More importantly: Labour recently unveiled a giant stone plinth with their main election promises written on it. Now, a few things can be learned from this – firstly, Labour are trying to invoke both Moses and 2001 a Space Odyssey in one go, which is nice as an aspect of post modern cross referential politics, but leads me to just imagine Moses bringing down the Ten Commandments only to be set upon by an excitable monkey with a bone. Secondly, it is possible heckle things with a horse and cart, as the Green party candidate for Sheffield did, proving that while the Greens might not win the election, they definitely win the internet. But lastly, and most importantly, Ed Milliband stood proudly in front of a massive stone sign saying “controls on immigration” – a statement which buys into the anti-immigrant hysteria born out of years of tabloid journalism and UKIP-influenced political discourse. If Labour is truly the party of the oppressed, as many of my leftist friends seem to think, why does it not attempt to counter a harmful, and evidence free discourse of political scapegoating?
Herein lies on the the central problems of Labour. It’s refusal to articulate a progressive alternative. On immigration, Labour wants to be seen as “tough” which means, due to the logic of this political discourse, one must advocate for control on immigration. A wonderful but also depressing apex of this line of thinking was when Labour started selling a “Control on Immigration” mug. Because nothing goes better with your morning coffee than blaming other nationalities for all of your problems. I’m looking forward to getting my “Tough on benefits” cereal bowl, and my “It was those single mums in council houses wot broke the economy” spoon, should Labour win the election. The upside of this is that, as ever, the Greens won at trolling by making a mug of their own saying “Standing up for migrants.” Because nothing goes better with your morning coffee than actually giving a crap about your fellow human beings regardless of who they are. I’m looking forward to getting my “Well, Trident’s a bit shit isn’t it” cereal bowl, and my “Cull the bankers, not the badgers” spoon if the Greens win the election.
Actually, what am I saying? The Greens won’t win the election. At least we win when it comes to trolling.
But again, Labour’s problem is that it is still very much trying to appeal to a political discourse dictated by the Tabloids. Take the SNP – as someone who has voted Labour in the past, I cannot get my head around how Ed Milliband can state, in public, on TV, that he’d rather have a Tory government then work with the SNP. Is it a fear of another independence referendum? How likely, though, would that be, if the SNP were in coalition with Labour? A strength of the SNP’s argument for independence is that Westminister is the preserve of the London, right leaning elite, and very distant from the concerns of the Scottish. Now, if the SNP is in Westminister, and indeed, in government, can that argument still hold water? I doubt it? If anything, the SNP is in a stronger position to argue for independence in opposition than it is in government. Surely, if you want to avoid Scottish independence, you bring the SNP into government. You don’t buy into a tedious anti-Scottish hysteria, which, if anything, will probably make more Scots want to sever ties with the rest of the UK. Who can blame them…
Part two: Why I am not voting tactically?
And this brings me back to tactical voting.
Tactical voting is essentially looking at the national situation, finding the nastiest party and then putting the least nasty party between you and the nastier party. In other words, if you’re a leftist, this whole thing becomes much simpler because the nasty party is always the Tories, and they must be kept out at all costs. So, if you can, vote Labour. If you can’t, vote Lib Dem. Vote Respect, vote anyone to keep the Tories out. Of course, no one wants to see a Tory government, but it has never sat well with me to vote for something I didn’t believe in. I voted Labour in the past because I deluded myself with the belief that Labour would swing to the left, that the left within Labour could bring it back to socialism. Ultimately, that has about as much effect as telling yourself it’s going to be fine over and over again before an operation. It might be that you’re right. Or, you might never wake up again.
The day I decided I would never vote tactically again, and incidentally joined the Green Party, was when I realised that with tactical voting, you’re basically letting the Tories win. Maybe not the seat, but they are winning the argument about how politics should work. Think about it this way – if you’re on the right, you’ll probably vote Tory. If you’re on the left, you might vote for a variety of different parties to keep the Tories out. Your priority as a leftist becomes not what kind of politics would I like to see enacted, but how can I stop the Tories. The left vote, then, fragments. Leftists vote for centrist parties, and call it pragmatism. Properly left groups, like the Greens, or Left Unity, who always tend to be on the political sidelines, stay that way because people vote out of fear, rather than for a kind of politics they hold themselves. Your local Tory PCC might not get his or her seat, but in some ways, by voting out of fear, rather than out of some sort of hope, the Tories have won.
In short, tactical voting is essentially a system that plays into the Conservatives hands. It doesn’t mean that Tory government are always elected, but it does mean the left never backs one group consistently. Certainly, some right wingers will vote tactically to try and keep Labour out, but more often than not, it’s the left who have to vote tactically. Is it any wonder then, than leftist parties then to exist on the margins? Is it any wonder that Labour still lurks around the centre right? Because Labour knows that it needs to appeal to the swing Tory voters. It also knows that leftists will grudgingly vote for Labour out of fear. And again, the Tories “win.”
As you may have guessed, the problem is really down to FPTP. My hope is that, whatever the outcome of this election, we change our voting system in the next few years. It’s ludicrous, and by going it’ll take tactical voting with it. Here’s hoping…