Why lefties shouldn’t vote Green

Chris Dillow is voting for the Green Party and he gives some good reasons for doing do. As he points out:

The Greens are opposed to fiscal austerity. Labour’s promise to “cut the deficit every year” unconditional on the state of the economy is a capitulation to mediamacro deficit obsession. Granted, they might well be insincere in this – but there’s a danger that lies become the truth.

Fair enough. Labour has caved into the nonsense that the government talks on public finances and this alone makes it reasonable to prefer the Greens, even if, as Chris says, some of their policies are questionable and their leader has failed to inspire.

That said, Chris, and I imagine many other people who are planning to vote Green, prefers Labour to the Tories and “very much wants Ed Miliband to be our next PM”. But since he lives in a safe Tory seat his vote won’t affect the number of MPs each party has, so he assumes it won’t affect Miliband’s chance of being PM and he is free to use it to “express [his] disdain for how Labour has kowtowed too much to economic illiteracy and reactionary prejudice”.

But with David Cameron announcing that his intention to  declare victory if he gets the most votes and/or seats – even if he can’t command a majority in the House of Commons – this assumptions looks a little shaky. Cameron’s plan is presumably to force Labour to team up with the SNP to bring him down, then spend the next five years denouncing the Labour government as illegitimate, lacking a mandate and stooges of the Scottish nationalists. Even better, this prospect may be so terrifying to Labour that they bottle it and decide to endure a Tory minority government.

This is a novel strategy to say the least, and sounds almost like an admission of defeat. But while political insiders recognise that this strategy has no constitutional or legal basis, a majority of the public seems to think otherwise. If Cameron (and Tory-supporting sections of the press) can create a strong enough case that he is the only legitimate winner, then Miliband taking office might be an unpopular move.*

This strategy is unlikely to work, though, unless the Tories get both more seats and more votes than Labour. If Labour can respond to Tory claims of legitimacy on the basis of having the most MPs by pointing to their larger share of the popular vote, then the Tory case begins to look weak. And every vote cast for the Greens instead of Labour increases the chances of the Tories getting the largest vote share. Even if this doesn’t affect Miliband’s chances of entering number 10, it could weaken his position once he gets there.

It’s not ideal that we have a voting system in which it is so often rational to vote tactically, rather than for the party you prefer. But given the system we have, lefties like Chris should vote for Labour on Thursday, even if they live in a safe seat.**


* What we are seeing here is the gap between how our voting system actually works and how most people think it works beginning to impinge on reality. We have been brought up on a diet of two-party politics where there is a winner and a loser, and the winner becomes Prime Minister. This time, in part because of the nationalist bias in our electoral system, there will not be a winner – but the public is still looking for one. This allows politicians to play off public opinion against legal and constitutional facts. A system that relies on these sorts of games is one without clear and objective rules, leaving voters confused and disenfranchised. If hung parliaments are going to become the norm in future elections then either our voting system, public opinion or both need to change.

** It goes without saying that potential UKIP voters who prefer Cameron to Miliband should take the same advice and vote Tory, even if they live in a safe seat.


UPDATE: while Cameron’s strategy might be novel to Brits, it is old hat in Canada.

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