Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not a fan of tactical voting or electoral pacts. ‘Vote for what you believe in’ is my motto. And stepping aside to endorse another party’s candidate limits voter choice and involves significant risk. What’s more, it makes some big assumptions about how your own voters will respond. An earlier post, On Greens, Alliances and Compromises, set out these concerns as we approached the last General Election. So now, two years down the line, what’s changed my tune?
Here’s a question. Why vote for a particular party? If you support one of the two largest parties, you probably want to see your guy in No. 10 and your party in government, where it’s in a position to get things done. Fair enough. But what if you support a smaller party like the Greens? Obviously it’s not to enter government — the first past the post system sees to that. So generally speaking, Green voters (and members) want to grow the party’s influence and ensure green issues and values feature prominently in political debate. We aim to pressure those in power to be more ambitious in their policymaking and call out greenwashing and damaging policies. In other words, it’s about maximising policy impact. Greens want to give a loud, clear voice to the environment.
But speaking up is only half the story. Someone — the government — has to listen. So the important question for Greens is this: after December’s General Election, who will be prepared to listen to and act on green issues? Who is most likely to implement the policies we demand? Certainly not another Tory government.
As we don’t directly elect the prime minister we have to set our sights on who we elect to represent our local constituencies. And of course this presents a real dilemma in highly marginal seats. The number of votes for the third, fourth or even fifth largest party could significantly influence the outcome of an election where the incumbent is hanging on by a couple of hundred votes. Those votes could see off a challenge from the right, for example, or unseat an unpopular Tory incumbent. But this is nothing new, so again, why vote tactically now?
So much is at stake in this General Election. The prospect of Johnson being returned to No. 10 in December is truly terrifying. We know what could lie ahead — deals with Trump, disastrous consequences for Northern Ireland, deregulation and yet more privatisation of the NHS. Make no mistake, green voices won’t be heard by an emboldened hard-Brexit, hard-right government. So let’s be honest. What do we want to achieve by voting for a Green Party with a small share of the vote in a highly marginal seat?
Tragic though it is, this General Election is about preventing the worst.
One motivation could be increasing voter share and beating another party into last place. But guess what — no-one really cares who comes third, fourth or fifth. It only matters to party strategists planning resources for the next election. And in the meantime, we all have the winner of this election to contend with. Is the prospect of (possibly) gaining a couple of hundred additional votes worth the risk of returning a Tory MP? I’ve asked myself the same question — and the answer is a reluctant but clear ‘no’.
A far more compelling reason is knowing you voted for what you believed in. I get this completely. I’ve done it up to now and look forward to doing it again. But take a long hard look at what’s actually going on around us. Tragic though it is, this General Election is about preventing the worst from happening.
One point that often comes up in relation to electoral pacts is Labour’s refusal to reciprocate. On the one hand, I understand Labour’s position — as the official party of opposition they have to fight to win and form a government. But where the party polls third or even fourth in a very marginal seat, they should at least be prepared to negotiate endorsing the candidate likely to unseat a Tory incumbent. Should Green voters insist on this commitment before supporting a Labour candidate? It seems reasonable to do so. But here’s another question you could ask yourself. What would feel worse on 13 December: knowing you helped a Labour win (despite their party’s refusal to stand aside elsewhere), or facing another few years of the Tory incumbent? That’s certainly something to ponder.
This government has to go. In highly marginal seats we have a real chance to help send it packing. Please seize this opportunity and at least consider supporting the candidate best placed to make it happen, even without a formal pact arrangement. We don’t have to agree with them on everything, although neither should we sell ourselves short, and there will be red line policies. Ask canvassers and candidates tough questions about key policy areas and things that worry you. It won’t be comfortable. But don’t lose sight of the alternative — another term for a Tory incumbent, another term for Johnson. And what that means for Brexit, for the NHS and for getting our green voices heard.