5th May 2010
DIG OUT THE HARD HATS, LADS. YOU’RE GOING TO NEED THEM
This morning Tony Blair donned a hard hat in the West Midlands as he visited Ettingshall’s Nuclear Engineering Services (reported at the Express & Star.) The report illustrates again the ongoing attraction that Mr Blair has for the punters, and even the press, when they’re honest.
And yesterday Mr Blair urged voters to back the party they believe in
After cabinet ministers Ed Balls and Peter Hain appeared to endorse tactical voting, the former prime minister dismissed the Liberal Democrats as “the old politics masquerading as the new”.
He said: “It is simple. Vote for what you believe in. If you think their polices are good, vote for them, but if you don’t, don’t. The Lib Dems are not going out to people and saying ‘vote Labour’ – they are trying to take seats off us.” (source New Statesman)
The talk in some quarters might be about tactical voting, but there may be far more to it than that. Enough has been said by some MPs and dismissed by such as Blair & Brown so that enough of the relevent seats’ voters will have the nous to look at their marginal constituency.
So do I conclude that all this talk of tactics is part of a wider strategy? I do indeed.
TACTICS OR STRATEGY?
Since tactics are by definition part of an overall strategy, we need to ask what is Labour’s strategy, not what should be the voting tactics of would-be Lib Dem voters. And that depends on which parts of Labour you are talking about.
Let’s get something clear. Tactical voting – on the Left/Centre Left is nothing new.
It has always gone on, often unstated, and particularly in certain constituencies. Some might argue that because tactical voting has to be used by some to keep out the “least worst” option then clearly there is something not quite right in our voting system. Undeniably true. Except that changing that voting system entails deeper thinking on what would then occur. The easy slogan “fair votes” is only one side of the equation.
On the other side? With a proportional system, we will get a continually “balanced/hung” (you choose) parliament; the Lib Dem tail wagging the Tory or Labour dog?; haggling over policies which most of the population would NOT favour, many of which are antipathetic to generally considered consensus? Closer ties with the EU? More open-doors to immigration? A hands-off approach to international interventionism, and a “balancing” separation from America? And perhaps above all else, no likelihood of any one party ever again attaining power on its own. (The Lib Dems’ manifesto calls for full voting reform in the form of the single transferable vote.)
At one time I would have supported this because it sounds like common sense, giving every vote the same value, more or less. Not any more I don’t. Not after the Lib Dems’ failure on the Iraq decision. A failure which they still think was a success.
LIB DEMS SAY “DON’T”, LABOUR SAYS “YES, BUT NO BUT”
What IS new is the Lib Dem and the Labour approach to coping with tactical voting tomorrow. Historically the Liberal Democrats have always understood how their vote has not been reflected fairly throughout the country and have managed to work the system. As the third party and of the Left/Centre Left – never Right – and always behind in numbers of seats and votes, at times disproportionately, in order to avoid the Tories (in most cases) they have quietly encouraged targeted seats’ supporters to vote Labour rather than Tory. In a two-way Con/Lab marginal where voting LD would have handed victory to the Conservatives.
Now, with their TV star Clegg the Concealer in charge, their tactics have changed. He has suddenly seen the light at the end of the tunnel and dares to think that the Lib Dems could actually win!
HONEST NICK CLEGG IS LYING (Sorry, folks, but he is.)
Interesting, therefore, to watch Nick Clegg urging people NOT to vote tactically. He seems to be suggesting that if his 30-ish% rose to, say 40-ish% we would actually then have a Lib Dem government.
I am sorry, but Mr Clegg is misleading the voters. His party’s support is spread unevenly and disparately. Unless the Lib Dem vote rose exponentially to something like the support that Blair had in 1997, and even that (sometimes as high as 60%+) didn’t in the end transfer in numbers to his actual vote, Mr Clegg has no chance of becoming Prime Minister.
So that’s the new Lib Dem strategy: confound blasted tactical voting. WE don’t need it!
As for the Labour party, well that’s a different and more interesting story.
The general consensus is that the Conservatives will come out ahead of Labour, though probably not with an overall majority. So, looking to a possibly disastrous result, and fall-out from the result they are trying to face …facing two or more ways.
- If the Tories win outright, Labour will NOT want to start again with a fall in vote numbers as well as seats. They will not want their voting support diluted by tactical voting. Labour’s great fear is that they might end up third in number of votes, while second in seat numbers. (For these two reasons at least Labour needs to keep its vote numbers up.)
- If there is a Tory/Lib Dem coalition Labour needs to lay claim to a sizeable number of seats and at least almost as many votes as the Lib Dems. It can then have a foundation upon which to build should a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition fail in the short-term. Also, whether led by Brown or A N Other, Labour will want to avoid being seen as the new “third party”.
- If there is a Lab/Lib Dem coalition Labour does not want to be regarded as a weakened (even morally junior) partner having lost the election and because their votes and seats have shrunk, while those of the Lib Dems have increased. (Labour needs to keep their seat AND vote numbers up.)
In the event of at least 1 and 2 above, perhaps even 3, there will be calls to replace Gordon Brown, sooner rather than later. What will follow from that eventuality may hint at the strategic thinking behind the throwing of tactical voting into the mix, and the reminders by Messrs Brown and Blair that people should vote for what they believe in. If YOU believe in the Lib Dems, it’s YOUR decision to, for instance – never again have strong government, never again have control over your own borders, never again have a place at the world’s top table.
Positioning for the New, New, New Labour may be what these voting tactically tactics are all about.
But of course, a fourth general election is a tough ask. The last time that happened was in 1992, when John Major’s Tories won unexpectedly against Neil Kinnock. Four elections in a row have never been won by Labour. A score Mr Brown would love to get on the Brown/Blair score sheet, next to his name, of course.
BLAIR ON NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW
Watch Newsnight video with Blair (6 days left to watch)
Early into the programme, at around 3m 50s, Michael Crick asks Mr Blair (in Darwin) – “Mr Blair, do you agree with Ed Balls when he says that if he lived in North Norfolk he’d think about voting Lib Dem?”
Blair: “Well, I’m sort of for voting for Labour really, that’s, you know, my view … I think [… ]well, I think the difficulty for me at any rate – what I think is important is to vote for what you believe in. So this is why I keep saying to people about the Lib Dems – if you go and have a look at their policies, study their actual policies, and you then come back and say I think that’s a really good idea, let’s vote Lib Dem, that’s fine by me. But if what you think is, well that sounds kind of interesting, something new – that’s not a serious basis for voting. So, I wouldn’t want to vote Lib Dem – myself.”
“The thing is about the Lib Dems, it’s a really important thing to realise. In the end the problem was if you wanted to talk to them about electoral reform they were absolutely open to the conversation. Right. If you wanted to talk to them about public service reform, right? If you wanted to talk to them about the hard issues on the economy, if you wanted to talk to them about the difficult questions that actually government is about, they weren’t up for it. That was the problem. In the end they were very happy to have debates about the electoral system […] I DO believe that progressives should be together, but in the end you test a progressive, and this is the key point that you guys have got to get your heads round, you test it by policy. Right? You don’t test it by just saying – well let’s all get together, let’s have a movement for electoral reform. Electoral reform may be right, may be wrong Electoral reform doesn’t change the nature of the decisions on the economy, on public services, on welfare on anything. So the problem I had when we were reforming public services, putting money in but also saying come on we got to make changes in the way public services are run, the Lib Dems were opposing that.”
On Crick’s mention of ‘John Major’s not campaigning in this election’, Mr Blair groaned and hand-waved Crick, clearly knowing what was coming next – “let’s not go back to that.”
But Crick asked his question anyway: “Are you worried that perhaps you might be a liability rather than an asset?”
With a dismissive shrug and an equally dismissive glance at Crick, he responded, clearly not worried, “I’m here”. He then moved away, saying to the gathered supporters, “Right, what are we going to do now?”
Also on Newsnight, interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, Labour’s election co-ordinator Ed Miliband, (brother of the Blairite leadership succession favourite David) tried to hold both options at the same time – voting tactically and NOT. But his judgement was to vote Labour.
In the latest poll last night, Crick said the pattern in these two polls was that the separation was wider, 11% instead of last week’s 4%, which was bad news for the Lib Dems with only 36 hours left before the people have their final say.
YouGov: Con/Lab/LD – 35/30/24 and ComRes: – 37/29/26
Also 38% of respondents in the Com Res poll said it was quite possible they would still change their vote before polling day.
Ed Balls’ overt conversion to tactical voting seems a little puzzling. Only on Sunday Nick Cohen said this after interviewing Mr Balls:
‘So I was not expecting oratory that could lift the heart when I asked Douglas Alexander and Ed Balls at a press conference last week why left-of-centre voters should stick with Labour rather than vote Liberal Democrat. But I was expecting a reason better than: “Well, if you vote Liberal Democrat you could let the Tories take power.”
No appeal to idealism. No vision of the future, or offer of hope. No assertion that Labour had the vitality to govern Britain for another five years, and possessed better ideas and stronger morals than the superficially plausible Mr Clegg. Like Gordon Brown in the television debates, Alexander and Balls had nothing to offer but fear of the other side winning; politicians reducing themselves to the level of the football fan, and delivering a low argument that wasn’t necessarily true: for the Liberal Democrats could reply that if enough people incline their way then the electorate won’t let David Cameron into 10 Downing Street by the back door but Nick Clegg through the front door.
The exhaustion of Labour, a fatigue as visible in the battered face and stumbling gait of Gordon Brown as in his party’s feeble arguments, looks as if it will return us to a state we have not known for 90 years. For the first time since it beat the divided Liberals to finish as runner-up in the 1922 election, Labour will not be the most popular “progressive” party.’
I can’t imagine why Mr Balls changed his mind and then changed it back again. Tactics?
RELATED – ELECTION AFTERMATH
2. One of David Clark’s reasons for wanting the Lib Dems is precisely my reason for not wanting them (Iraq). God knows the Lib Dems had almost everything they wanted from Blair’s government without coalition, from independence of the Bank of England to Scottish and Welsh devolution, as well as social changes the Conservatives would NEVER have given the country.
RELATED – POLLS
1. Exploding myths of the 1997 election, Robert Worcester of Ipsos/Mori says the polls were within the margin of error, while the pundits were “nowhere near right”.
The pundits got the election right?
“Nowhere near in most cases. (pp 214-27) Of the 20 pundits on the Reuters’ panel of so-called political experts, the average eve-of-poll forecast was a Labour majority of 92, just over half of the 179 majority on the day, and compares to the average 159 seat projection recorded by the opinion polls. Not one of the 20 pundits was as close to the Tory share of the vote as the opinion polls’ average.”
2. This paper by John Curtice – “How well did the opinion polls do?” confirms this, averaging several polls:
Average Con: 30, Lab – 47, LD – 16, Others – 7 Lead- 17
Result Con- 31, Lab – 44, LD – 17, Others – 8, Lead – 13
Difference: Con -1, Lab- +3, LD- -1, Others -1 Lead +4
In other words Labour @ 44% did 3%-age points worse than the polls expected. The Tories @ 31% did 1% better as did the Lib Dems @ 17%, not their projected 16%. The ICM polls were closest, though none got both numbers correct. Harris was right on the Tory vote though over-estimated Labour’s vote by 4% and under-estimated the LD vote by 2%.
REMEMBER – 326 is the number of seats which have to be won by any party in order to get an outright majority.
Keep the hat handy, Gordon.