Tactical Voting, the Progressive Alliance and wasted votes

For most people the Progressive Alliance is an abstract concept at best, consigned to the fringes of party conferences. Not so for the political anoraks among us, particularly those on the left. For many of us it has become an issue of urgent focus since the disappointment of the 2015 general election, and given greater prominence since by senior figures from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

The surprise result in 2015 prompted some of us to take a second look, and, seeing a government installed with the support of just 37% of the population, we asked ourselves; might there be a better way? The Progressive Alliance has emerged as an answer worth considering.

A Progressive Alliance might be summarised as: a formal agreement between centre-left or ‘progressive’ political parties under which they agree not to select candidates in marginal seats, instead endorsing and even campaigning for the candidate most likely to beat the non-progressive candidate.

When Theresa May called a snap election last month, she put the idea of a formal cross-party electoral pact to bed, for now. The truncated timetable prompted Labour to implement an ‘extraordinary selection process’ leaving little time to account for the usual internal processes, even without the burden of organising across and between political parties. Perversely, if polls are to be believed, the impetus behind the concept, a fear of right-wing political dominance, is more acute than ever. This leaves progressive voters in marginal seats to search for informal arrangements at a local level. Already, the Green party has declined to select candidates in Brighton Kemptown, Ilford North and Hampstead and Kilburn, with growing pressure from within the Labour Party to return the favour in places like Brighton Pavilion.

In my own constituency of Lewes in East Sussex, a Lib Dem/Tory marginal, this is a live issue. For many years Labour and Green supporters have happily engaged in tactical voting, lending their support to the Liberal Democrats, confident that Norman Baker was socially-liberal, active locally and above all else, not a Tory. This confidence was knocked when he took up a role as a junior minister in the Conservative-led coalition. Keen to give Norman a kicking, many chose to act with their hearts rather than their heads in 2015, casting self-satisfying but, thanks to our first past the post electoral system, utterly wasted votes for Labour and the Greens. In the process, they helped Lewes to return a Conservative MP to the Commons for the first time in 18 years.

This time it’s different. Faced with the prospect of a national Conservative landslide, progressive voters in Lewes are keen to absolve themselves of responsibility for returning a Conservative to parliament for a second time. With a national progressive alliance off the cards and all major parties having selected candidates, progressives in Lewes are left with tactical voting as their only option. Which means Labour and Green supporters voting Liberal Democrat, as they have done many times before. Despite extraordinary circumstances the Liberal Democrat candidate Kelly Marie-Blundel cannot take anything for granted. She must work hard to convince progressives outside of her own party, who feel betrayed by the actions of her predecessor, that she deserves their vote.

The proximity of winnable seats in Hove, Kemptown and Pavilion, just a bus ride away, is a salve for the wounded pride of progressives in Lewes, providing them with an opportunity to actively campaign and win votes for a party they believe in. Nevertheless, having voted reluctantly for a Lib Dem candidate, many will feel cheated by an electoral system that is unresponsive to the diversity of political opinion. Not only in Lewes, but in marginal seats across the country, progressive voters will be searching for a way to do things differently. When they wake up on the 9th of June, floating in a sea of blue, they may have to look again to the Progressive Alliance for the answer.

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