During the 2015 general election campaign, I did some phone canvassing for the Lib Dems. It was the simpler end of this sort of thing, at least for me: I was calling local organisers to see what, if anything, they required from HQ. So, no need to pitch the party, just find out some practicalities. Or so I thought.
I was surprised at how many of the people I called – and recall, these were Lib Dem organisers at the last election, so people who actually not only canvassed for the party but organised other people to do so as well – said that they had not only left the party, but had joined UKIP. One guy in particular put it sort of beautifully: “I’ve joined the other side”. As if the Lib Dems and UKIP were the only parties in Great Britain.
And to someone like him, that was probably broadly true at the time. A very misunderstood portion of the electorate is the “none of the above” voter. This is someone who will simply vote for whatever party (or option on a referendum ballot) that will cause the maximum amount of disruption to the perceived establishment. Pre-2010, this went to the Lib Dems – in fact, the proportion of the Lib Dem vote in the first decade of this century that was “none of the above” has turned out to be phenomenal, probably about two-thirds of the party’s vote share. Then, it went to UKIP after the Coalition was formed. At the 2017 general election, it seems to have gone to Labour.
What’s so important about the “none of the above” crowd is that they are numerous enough to change elections and referendums in a decisive manner, and yet people are constantly attributing to this group motives it almost certainly does not have within its numbers to any appreciable degree. In 2015, they were probably decisive in allowing the Tories to get a majority and causing Labour to be so badly beaten; in 2016, they were almost certainly decisive in allowing Leave to win; in 2017, they allowed Labour to get 40% of the vote and pick up seats in an election they were thought sure to get crushed in.
Again, what motivates most of these voters does not seem to be any particular issue. Because of the swelling of UKIP numbers in the 2015 general election, the assumption was that this group was motivated primarily by Euroscepticism; 2016 seemed to confirm this. And yet they were happy to vote Labour in 2017, despite this seemingly making Brexit less likely, or at least, a hard Brexit less likely. Also, the Lib Dems hardly hid the fact that they were pro-European 2000-2010, so why did they vote Lib Dem back then if leaving Europe was the priority?
Obviously, I’m in danger of treating around 13% of the population as one great lump that all thinks the same things. They are obviously not. I’m simply saying that there seems to be a group of voters who are around 10-15% of the electorate who are motivated beyond anything else to cast their vote in a way designed to cause the most upheaval, regardless of any other issue. I don’t think anyone has considered this in enough depth as yet.