There are a lot of people at this (and every other) election talking of voting tactically. Whether you should is an interesting ethical question – and one outside the scope of this blog post. The only thing I’ll say on the ethics is that many people voted Lib Dem at the last election to keep the Tories out. This is a guide coming from a keen amateur game designer for the would be tactical voters to making the best use of your vote under the First Past the Post system. A system designed for game playing rather than getting representative results.
So. Given we are in such a messed up system, how can you make good use of your vote?
1: Check if you are in a safe seat
The Electoral Reform Society has already called the results in 58% of seats in the country – and last time they had a 99.5% accuracy rating. You can check their list. But if you’re interested to be reading this you already know. In my seat I’ve had one leaflet from the Tories, one from Labour, and two from the Greens. This isn’t a competitive seat. If you’re in a genuine marginal you’ll be knee deep in junk mail from everyone fighting it.
2: If you are in a safe seat:
If you are in a safe seat you probably have a bad constituency MP
Why? Because they don’t actually need you. They just need their local party to keep selecting them. And they can then spend their time climbing the greasy pole in Westminster. They turn up once every five years to pick up their votes. (Ever wonder why both the most obnoxious MPs and the party leaders all have safe seats? This is the answer.)
Tactical voting is about getting the greatest good from your vote. If you live in a safe seat, and are even thinking of voting tactically, vote against the sitting MP. It won’t lead to them losing and may lead to you getting better representation as they realise they have to pay attention.
Voting tactically will also lead to other parties paying attention. The Tories won’t care about a 15% voteshare in a Labour stronghold or vise-versa. But the Greens, UKIP, and any fringe party will. And a surprise 15% means that they will prepare to make a fight of it next time. Which means attention. It means councillors trying to do their job rather than turning up to meetings and going through the motion. It doesn’t matter who you are or who you want to win. You will be better represented in a seat that isn’t safe even if you support the party that has the seat safely.
So. A smart tactical vote is always one that doesn’t go to the incumbent in a safe seat even if you support the incumbent. If you support someone else, vote for them.
Now. Who should you vote for if you are in a safe seat? Where will your vote do the most good? There are several things your vote can do:
- Send a message to your MP about what you want to see that they aren’t doing. The bigger the party the more centrist it is. Pressure group parties underscore the need to do things about that specific issue. Almost any minor party qualifies here – they all have angles and make good points. (Admittedly I consider a lot of them deeply wrong in terms of the solutions they offer).
- Help a minor party save its deposit (which takes 5% of the vote). This is both heartening and, for minor parties that aren’t corporately funded very important (not so much for parties with £1 million corporate backing after the start of the short campaign when they can’t even spend it on the election due to spending limits).
- Push a party “on the bubble” towards being considered a major party at the next election. This only applies to UKIP and the Green Party in England (or, I believe, the rest of the UK). If you’ve ever wondered why the Green Party wasn’t being invited to BBC debates, this is the reason.
- Short Money – this only applies to parties with an MP and only matters for small parties with an MP, but every party with a little money gets a little money for each vote. This is mostly relevant to the Green Party, Plaid Cymru, and UKIP – with UKIP having far more total donations (including a different £1 million donor last year) so it matters less.
So as we’ve seen, if you live in the 58% of the country where seats are safe, voting for a party that is not one of the big three is the only way to make sure your vote won’t be entirely wasted. Vote representation, vote chaos, vote to remind your MP you can’t be taken for granted. Vote for the future.
If you aren’t in a safe seat
It’s a matter of personal judgement. Each seat is different. And all local parties will try to convince you that the race between first and second is closer than it is – and that the third party doesn’t stand a chance. None of them are trustworthy. And there are fewer races where voting for a third party will cost the seat than the larger parties want you to think – for example at the 2015 election internal Labour numbers only worried about people voting Green in 12 seats – of which they are worried about the Green vote in three because the Greens hold Brighton Pavillion and can win two more.