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Why Britons have to embrace tactical voting in the upcoming election

There simply is no heart in a national election; it's tactical voting all the way down

A aerial view of Westminster. BBC Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUF7JB1JmqQ. Some rights reservedAs the British Prime Minister has called an election for 8th June in order to strengthen her mandate for a hard Brexit (or perhaps to replace the 20-odd Tory MPs who are reportedly charged with electoral fraud and who would likely face suspension), British liberals and lefties are agonising over which non-Tory option to vote for.

Voting out the Tories will save many lives and mitigate much suffering, so it is an important thing to do. We should not, however, deceive ourselves to believe that there are good alternatives to the Tories when there are only less bad ones. In this election, tactical voting is all there is. If we want a society that is better than merely ‘less bad’, we must stop relying on the nation-state and instead organise together in our communities.

The Conservative Party has proved a sinister force in government. It has indirectly caused much death and suffering that could have been avoided. The most striking effect of Tory rule has probably been the surge in suicides among disabled people facing the Tories’ cuts to the Independent Living Fund and harsher Fit to Work assessments (which by the way have been found to cost more money than they save). We have also seen a systemic defunding of the NHS, leading to longer waiting times, a shortage of hospital beds, and several hospitals declaring emergency alerts announcing that they are no longer able to guarantee patient safety. Added to this, 250,000 children fell into poverty in the first year of Tory rule since the last election alone, and the number of families who rely on food banks is rising.

The Conservatives refuse to close loopholes in tax law that allow corporations to avoid paying taxes to the tune of several billion pounds a year. And the trade and investment deal Theresa May is currently negotiating with Donald Trump to replace what would have been the TTIP agreement between the EU and the USA (which would, in a nutshell, have made many aspects of government intervention into the economy – for example, pollution limits, health regulations and food standards, government provision of services, etc – illegal) is probably going to be far more scary than we could have imagined. No wonder Britons are looking to other parties.

As Labour is by far the largest opposition party, currently holding 229 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, a vote for Labour has been portrayed by many as a tactical option, as opposed to a more ideological vote for the Greens, Lib Dems or a nationalist party. Another common narrative is that it is the UK’s First Past the Post electoral system is to blame for the prevalence of tactical voting. These are both misconceptions. What we must understand about elections in a liberal democracy is that – unless you are in favour of violence and repression – voting in such elections is always tactical.

All main parties are intending to rule the United Kingdom as a nation-state should they win the election. For anyone sheltered from state violence, it is easy to forget what this actually means. Though praised for being the keeper of public welfare systems, nation-states are violent and repressive organisations. Not only because their borders push refugees to risk their lives entering secretly.

But also because of what the state does to its citizens. The nation-state is the organisation that legally protects the exploitation of workers by capitalists; that bails out banks; that shores up currencies that would otherwise crash under the instabilities of financial markets; that shuts down public protests criticising inequalities; that allows corporations to pollute so much CO2 that the climate is becoming dangerous for human habitation; that criminalises and shuts down workers’ strikes; that locks up people with emotional and behavioural problems; that pathologises gender identities that do not fit into the norm.

Talk of choosing the Greens or the SNP to ‘follow your heart’ is therefore deeply mistaken – unless your heart is cruel. There simply is no heart in a national election; it’s tactical voting all the way down. Whether you perceive the Greens or Labour or whoever else to be the best pathway to a less violent society, you’re voting with your thinking cap rather than your emotional desires. Each election, therefore, should be approached as a separate tactical encounter: party loyalty and leadership fandom can have no place in this process.

Many lefties also blame the First Past the Post (FPTP) system for messing up the outcome of British elections, but we must be very careful what we wish for. In the 2015 general election, UKIP was the single biggest victim of the FPTP system, gaining only one parliamentary seat despite winning 3.9 million votes. The SNP, meanwhile, got 56 MPs from 1.5 million votes. Clearly, the problem with British politics is not that FPTP skews electoral results in a reactionary direction; the problem is far deeper than that. The fact that the Tories can come across in the media as harbingers of economic stability and success; that media ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of business moguls who support neoliberal ideology; that schools teach obedience and productivity over critical thinking; that university costs money; that workplaces are organised non-democratically; that people work long hours and are too exhausted to get politically active. Those are the major problems with British democracy.

If you want to act in accordance with your heart, be mindful of this. First, vote tactically. Get the Tories out of power to save lives, prevent suicides and lift people out of poverty. Check which non-Tory party is most likely to win in your constituency – for most people it will be Labour.

Second, acknowledge that being a good democrat stretches beyond merely voting. Voting is a very problematic (if necessary) political strategy that legitimises an inherently violent organisation. It is necessary because it allows a chance to save lives and reduce some suffering. But it is far from the best tactic to make the world better. 

We must start to address the underlying problems that are preventing people from getting informed and expressing their views. Once you’ve decided who to vote for (which is a matter of checking which non-Tory party is likely to win in your area), start looking into community organisations you could join, subscribe to a few alternative media outlets and spread the word about them, protest university fees, look into the possibility of quitting your capitalist job and joining a co-operative business instead. If we really want to end the violence and repression that the nation-state is built upon we must find alternative ways of organising and governing ourselves.

There are no easy solutions, only empowering, mind-expanding and life-changing ones.

About the author

Sofa Gradin is a lecturer in Politics at Queen Mary University of London and an organiser with IOPS London (the International Organisation for a Participatory Society), which works for prefigurative politics against racism, capitalism and patriarchy. Follow them on twitter @sofagradin.

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