In just over a week, we will go to the polls for the second time in as many years to apparently decide which way our country will be run. According to the parties themselves, your choice is simple. Vote Conservative for a strong, stable, successful Brexit. Vote Labour for the renationalisation of public services and the reversal of cuts to social care. Vote Lib Dem for a meaningful vote on Brexit and for the relaxation of cannabis rules. Vote Green if you’re in Brighton Pavilion or Bristol West, because we seriously need their voice to some degree. Vote UKIP if you believe the Conservatives can’t be trusted to deliver on the hard Brexit that will probably destroy your life more than you realise.
At least, that’s what they say (kind of, I’ve taken license a little bit). But, digging underneath the surface, my personal conclusion is that you cannot vote for any of the aforementioned parties. I’ve recently moved to Blyth, which is in the Blyth Valley constituency. It is represented, and has been for ages, by Labour’s Ronnie Campbell, who was returned in 2015 with a 9,000 odd majority. He said he was going to retire in 2020, but has put it back two years to stand again. I moved here from North Tyneside, also represented by Labour in the form of Mary Glindon. Although she has a questionable record on same-sex marriage and other equal rights issues, she has been returned with an even bigger majority in recent elections. Labour, despite the creaking and clanking in specific constituencies across the region, remains pretty embedded here.
Yet there are two issues with voting in the Blyth Valley seat. The first is that it’s probably (although not certainly) a safe Labour seat, under the ridiculous FPTP rules we have in this country. UKIP are not standing this time around, ostensibly to give a free run for the Conservative candidate but in reality because they know their vote would be decimated if they did. But there still seems to be little indication that Campbell will be ousted. He’s a familiar face, even though my partner, who has lived in Blyth all her life, claims he’s actually done bog all for the constituency in his time here. Those Irish betting merchants Paddy Power have him at 4/11 and the Conservative candidate at 7/4. I know that bookies odds are in no way indicative of the way an election or referendum will go (you could still get 10/1 or so on Britain leaving the EU after the counting of the referendum ballots had begun just before midnight), but this is close. The Conservatives could take it. But, on balance of probability, they probably won’t. Which means that, as a new voter in the constituency, my vote is likely to count for bog all, although it could help swing a tight contest between Campbell and his blue foe.
The second issue with voting in Blyth is the same issue that people have countrywide. They’re all shite. The Conservatives, through their decimation of social services and their eye-popping neoliberal capitalist ideology, quite literally kill people in some cases, and make plenty miserable, in deeper poverty, with less life chances, a penurious education, and in limbo with their healthcare. Theresa May is a robot who has curiously been programmed by herself to repeat the words strong and stable over and over again, as has been well-noted. I believe the re-election of the Tories will be nothing less than a catastrophe, and will eradicate the remaining sinews of social support for those who most desperately need it.
And yet, what’s the alternative? Labour’s manifesto is all well and good, but there’s no indication of how it’ll be paid for – except from a rather simplistic table that didn’t withstand the IFS’s scrutiny the other day. There’s also the problematic inability of Momentum and other aspects of the far-far-left to cope with any kind of critique or critical engagement, whether friendly or otherwise. Corbyn himself is principled, but while I’m with him on the Trident issue there are other aspects of his foreign policy that would struggle in the realist ‘states compete with each other in an ungoverned, anarchical system’ realm of international relations, one I think is broadly correct. Labour, then, despite being well-meaning and undoubtedly responsible for the best social reforms in recent years under that nonetheless despicable creature Blair, cannot be supported.
Then there’s the Lib Dems. Farron is a nice chap, but he’s never going to be PM. He has pledged the British people will get a final say on the Brexit deal, which will no doubt appeal to some. Yet as someone who ideologically was and is a ‘Remoaner’, even I think that he’s now flogging a dead horse with that line of argument. Brexit, for worse or for worse, is going to happen. I admire that he wants to try and make sure the worse is as diluted as possible, but it’s implausible to think he’ll get anywhere near the number of votes to have any digestible impact on the process.
That leaves us with UKIP and the Greens (notwithstanding Independents, and of course excluding the question of Scotland, Wales, and NI, which I am for the purposes of this post). UKIP are fucking mental, I hope there’s little disagreement with that. The Greens, on the other hand, are where my ideological allegiance lies. Yet they are still unfortunately so far away from an effective voice in UK politics. Their Universal Basic Income, acceptance of the grim reality of anthropogenic climate change, and even their job-sharing leaders are all good things in principle. But the world is not ready for them yet, and might never be, with the interests of private business so entrenched in our economic and cultural psyche.
The choice facing us is therefore one of nihilistic doom. All options are bad. I don’t want May to run my country, but I equally can’t countenance Corbyn, or Farron, or that nutter Nuttall. I could countenance Bartley and Lucas, but this is where realism starts to drag me down again. The Greens in Downing Street would be a great sitcom but wouldn’t be very effective if they were to somehow find themselves in office in a couple of weeks.
My perspective in this election is therefore one of pessimism and pragmatism. Pessimism because I don’t want to vote for anyone – and the knowledge that even if I did, it would make little difference in our stupid FPTP world. But I’m simultaneously pragmatic, in that there are things we can do if we readjust the terms of the debate and the way we frame the election.
If we look at polling, Twitter, the bookies, and everything that’s happened in the last twenty years, it seems inescapable that the Conservatives will get a majority. If we want to be pragmatic, we have to accept that as near-enough fact. This means we have to turn our attention to a subsidiary question – what will a Conservative majority do? As I’ve discussed above, they’ll fuck up social services to the point where we will all (minus the rich few percent) be placed constantly on a threshold of abandonment – if things go wrong for us, if we’re injured, lose our job, or have some other unfortunate circumstance appear out of nowhere, the net that is supposed to catch us will be increasingly made out of ever-sharper cheesewire instead of rope.
Taking these two near-enough facts next to each other, the pragmatic priority has to be ensuring that there is some kind of effective opposition that can rally against the worst of these planned cuts. Leaving aside the prickly notion of defining ‘effective’, in a nutshell we have to try and ensure the Conservative majority is as narrow as possible. If they get a huge majority, they will take it as a mandate to do whatever the hell they like, not only with Brexit, but with schools, hospitals, libraries, and all the other infrastructures that we rely on for our health and wellbeing. If, on the other hand, the majority is narrower than originally predicted, there might be some scope to oppose and defeat some of the more malignant things May and her sprites want to do. Note though that I’m not just saying this because I hate the Conservatives. If, in some alternative Socialist universe, it were Corbyn who were on course for a massive majority, I’d be arguing the same to try and restrict his margin as well.
There is therefore only one course of action open for people like me, who are a) pessimistic and pragmatic, think b) FPTP is terrible and c) none of the parties can conceivably be voted for because they are all, although for different reasons, utterly silly choices. We have to vote tactically to try and prevent May’s majority from being high. This is where vote swapping comes in. This, essentially, is where you swap your vote for Party X in a Party X safe seat, with someone else’s vote for Party Y in a seat where Party Y has no choice of winning but Party X does. You vote Party Y in the Party X safe seat (so Party X still wins), and the person with whom you’re swapping votes Party X in the Party X marginal. This means that your vote, when swapped, might actually count for something serious in a marginal rather than being slung atop a pile of voting slips that dwarfs all the others in your home constituency.
Say, for example, I am going to vote Labour in Blyth Valley (which I am, because it’s not safe enough to warrant a swap). But say that Blyth Valley was really really safe, and I was going to vote Labour here. I would swap my vote with say ‘John’, a Green supporter from a seat where the Greens have no hope and which is a tight Labour-Conservative marginal. Being a Green, John might vote tactically for Labour anyway. But if I agree to vote Green in Blyth Valley, and he votes Labour in the marginal, neither party will numerically lose or gain a vote. It will just be submitted elsewhere.
In our FPTP system, vote swapping is the only thing we pessimists can do if we feel disenfranchised with our vote not counting. Make it count by swapping with someone else. You don’t have to personally identify ‘John the Green’ either, there are websites that’ll do it for you (see here, here, and here). And in doing so, we might – just might, although I am not very hopeful – nudge a couple of seats away from the Conservative majority that will so decimate our country. Again, I do not just advocate this to try and get Labour in. If you’re a Lib Dem in Bristol West, swap your vote with a Green and encourage others to do the same. It doesn’t really matter what colour the marginals turn, as long as it isn’t blue.
Me though, after much waffling and soul-searching, I’ll be going Labour, and Ronnie Campbell. Not because I wholeheartedly support him, or Corbyn. But just because I want to ensure Mr. Campbell, despite his flaws, remains in his seat, and therefore prevents another Conservative being added to the locust swarm of incompetent, immoral nutcases who constitute our current government.
In the long-run, FPTP has to end. We need some form of proportional representation to ensure that votes count no matter where they are submitted. I’m aware this, at present, would assist UKIP a great deal, but it’s the only fair way to do things. Regardless, however, I’m resigned. Resigned to a Conservative majority, resigned to devastating social cuts, a hard Brexit, and all the other crap that May is going to excrete onto our heads. Maybe the defining political ideology of the day isn’t neoliberalism, or socialism, or any other of that. Maybe it’s pessimism, resigned acceptance and sorrow at the way things are, and the forces that keep things the way they are in spite of massive inequalities and poverty.