Remainer Twitterland has been filled with “vote tactically for the person best placed to get rid of the Tory in your area” sentiment since the election was called. I have found this depressing – almost oppressive – yet I couldn’t understand why. Something about it seemed off to me.
Part of it was that many Labour supporters were clearly doing this to help their party as opposed to some grand plan to stop Brexit. They were able to take advantage of the fact that if you based who is best placed to win in any Tory-held seat based on 2017 results, you’d vote Labour almost everywhere. This ignores the fact that the Lib Dems have a much better polling position and have come into real contention in many seats they would not have had a chance in last time. The Lib Dems could theoretically beat the Tories in these seats in 2019, whereas Labour would never come genuinely close. I’ll point out here that a great many Remainers on social media were pursuing the “vote tactically” line in earnest – it’s just that Labour supporters, completely understandably from a tactical perspective, saw early on how this “vote tactically” messaging could be used to Labour’s advantage.
But that’s not what made me queasy about the tactical voting push.
It came to me as I was reading a Stephen Bush article about YouGov’s MRP model last night. It’s about Stephen’s six thoughts on the poll and in one of them he points out that for most of the country, if you want to stop the Tories, you vote Labour. They think of it that simply. From the other direction, most Tory voters associate the Lib Dems more closely with Labour, despite the five years of coalition. This means that while most Remain campaigners have been sincere in their vote tactical implorations, what they have unconsciously communicated is “vote Labour”.
This is problematic for several reasons. One is that where Labour faces the biggest struggle is in Tory-Lab marginals where the Leave vote was high in 2016. Yes, there were still a lot of Remain voters here, but most of them will vote Labour in these seats anyhow. What will determine the results in these seats is how many Leavers Labour can hold onto combined with how many of them will be put off by their dislike of Corbyn enough to vote Conservative. There is little that asking people to vote tactically to stop Brexit can do in these battlegrounds.
Whereas, the Tory-Lib marginals are all about Brexit. It comes down to whether to not enough people who might otherwise vote Tory vote Lib Dem instead. This was the thing Remain campaigners, if they were serious about stopping Brexit, should have focused on. Instead, they instinctively wanted to save Labour as much as possible, despite the fact that, ironically enough, this wasn’t very tactical.
To summarise, there was little Remain campaigners could have done to really help Labour either hold up or be destroyed by the Tories. But they could have helped the Lib Dems greatly in the seats they are trying to get off of the Tories and the “vote tactically” plea seems set to hurt them, as people just hear “vote Labour” whether Remain campaigners like it or not.