Toby Young writes in The Spectator that he has abandoned plans for a vote swapping website. The idea was that Conservatives would vote for UKIP in certain constituencies and that UKIP supporters would, in return, agree to back the Conservatives in some key marginal seats – those that were crucial Conservative/Labour or Conservative/Lib Dem battlegrounds.
It would have been quite legal – no money would change hands. It would be based on trust. Yet there were various problems with it.
For a start Mr Young envisaged not merely a website but a campaigning organisation. It was to be a “movement” named Country Before Party. That would imply Conservative and UKIP members campaigning for each other in certain places – which would also rather strongly imply them being expelled by their respective parties.
Then there was the problem of Mr Young being a Conservative.
First of all this meant the Kippers wouldn’t trust him as an honest broker to tell them where they should be voting Conservative.
Secondly, Mr Young didn’t like the idea of being disowned by his own party. While he realised that a formal electoral pact was unrealistic he had hoped that he might have been given a nod and a wink in private. Not so:
“I was secretly hoping that behind closed doors, the party panjandrums would be more sympathetic. After all, they must recognise that in the absence of some kind of alliance between the two camps, the risk of Ed Miliband becoming the next prime minister is quite high. There is also the fact that we believe in a lot of the same things: national sovereignty, free enterprise, controlled immigration, lower taxes, school choice, freedom of speech, etc. There are shared values here, even if we differ on policy detail.
“However, meetings with senior members of both parties soon put paid to that hope. Both camps told me that they would do very well at the next election without any help from the other, thank you very much. They also maintained that any hint of an alliance, however informal, would antagonise huge swaths of their supporters and they’d end up losing more votes than they’d gain.”
Then there is the deep personal antipathy between David Cameron and Nigel Farage. I wonder if Mr Farage would actually prefer to see Ed Miliband as PM than Mr Cameron? Sometimes the human element trumps political principle.
What Mr Young doesn’t mention is that portraying UKIP as a breakaway Conservative Party is rather more contentious than it was a year ago. On economic policies they offer very mixed messages these days.
Despite these complications I suspect that the willingness of Conservative and UKIP supporters to vote tactically for each other will be significant in the privacy of the voting booth on May 7th – especially if Mr Miliband’s arrival in Downing Street the following day is recognised as a clear and present danger.
Indeed writing on Red Box this morning Tim Montgomerie says he expects tactical voting in all varieties to flourish.
It will be better informed than in previous elections due to the constituency polling by this site’s proprietor Lord Ashcroft:
“Lord Ashcroft promises to keep releasing these marginal seat polls. Labour voters in South Thanet will probably get to know that the only way they can stop Nigel Farage becoming an MP is to vote Tory. Tory voters in Sheffield Hallam will have the information to know that they vote Lib Dem or Nick Clegg might not be around in a hung parliament to help keep David Cameron in power. This could be the election when because of so many close and multi-cornered fights tactical voting becomes massive. Lord Ashcroft’s polling will ensure that it can be informed tactical voting. It’s quite a public service.”
Labour keep going on about their “decapitation strategy” for Nick Clegg and of flooding in Labour MPs to campaign. They say that with him out of the way they would find it easier to form a coalition with the Lib Dems if we have another hung Parliament. Yet not only if this a longshot for Labour but aren’t they being indiscreet? There were 12,040 Conservative voters in Sheffield Hallam last time. If they could be persuaded that a Labour victory in that seat was a real threat would that not prompt thousands of Conservatives to vote tactically for Mr Clegg?
UKIP MP Mark Reckless tweeted this morning that it “key is for Tories to vote UKIP to beat Labour” he then specified Great Grimsby, Dudley North and Rother Valley. But in Dudley North the Conservatives only lost to Labour by 649 votes last time. In Great Grimsby the Conservatives lost by 714. So it might seem rather silly to suggest that Conservatives in those constituencies should give up the cause as lost.On the other hand Lord Ashcroft’s polling does show UKIP ahead of the Conservatives in both these seats. So that is presumably what Mr Reckless is thinking off.
In Rother Valley – where Labour had a majority of 5,866 it might be that Conservative supporters will scratch their heads a bit more – especially as the Ashcroft poll for that seat does show UKIP and Labour very close with the Conservatives a distant third.
Of course there will be plenty of seats where logic of tactical voting will be for UKIP supporters to vote Conservative. For example in Wirral West – where Lord Ashcroft’s poll last October showed Labour a point ahead of the Conservatives – with UKIP on 12 per cent.
Tactical voting in a game the Left can play too.
To take the same example of Wirral West the Green Party were on four per cent. On the other if there is polling in the Lib Dem seats of Norwich South or Bristol West, which shows the Green Party ahead of Labour then it could be the Labour vote that is squeezed. Perhaps a left wing version of Toby Young will offer a dating agency-style site for Greens in Wirral to be matched with Labour supporters in Bristol to negotiate vote swapping.
Then what of Labour and Lib Dem voters who live by the seaside? Might they be willing to vote Conservative tactically to thwart the Purple Peril? I doubt it will happen that much. Furthermore there is a danger is the Conservatives making too much of a pitch for it – while simultaneously making a plea for UKIP votes.
Are we really supposed to UKIP supporters:
“We share your values. We offer an in/out EU referendum. Don’t let Miliband into Downing Street.”
Then say to Lib Dem/Lab supporters in, for instance, Kent and Essex:
“UKIP are nasty extremists. Vote for us to stop them.”
All these permutations may seem bewildering. But the intelligent, interested, voter only has to work out the situation in his or her own constituency. In this sophisticated age they will be able to do so easily and objectively. No longer will they need to rely on trusting a rain-sodden Focus leaflet with a dodgy bar chart purporting to suggest only the Lib Dem can beat the incumbent.
That ready access to more reliable information is good for democracy.
Also good for democracy is that these insurgent parties – with the potential to be boosted or flattened by tactical voting – mean that of the 650 constituencies in the UK the outcome is really pretty uncertain in most of them. It’s uncertain in nearly all the 57 Lib Dem seats. It’s uncertain in most of the 59 Scottish constituencies. UKIP’s top targets include some of the “safest” Conservative seats. But then UKIP’s best bets are also thought to include hugely safe Labour seats such as Knowsley. Then we have the Green Party with their top targets including such safe Labour seats as Holborn and St Pancras and Liverpool Riverside.
The electorate might feel taken for granted. But far fewer politicians are able to get away with even a whiff of insouciance.