Are tactical voting arrangements the key to Constitutional Reform?

Polls suggest that the coming general election will return a majority Labour government. While support for Constitutional Reform among the party rank-and-file has burgeoned (83% vote in favour at the 2022 Labour conference), and the major trades unions have come on board, the leadership is resolutely non-committal. Tony Blair’s New Labour took heed and included Constitutional Reform in its 1997 manifesto – only to ‘forget’ about it once the election result turned out to be a landslide. Thirty years on, and still the Labour leadership remains silent.

2024 presents arguably the best opportunity to introduce Constitutional Reform in decades. If only there were a way to contrive that the next parliament was hung, then the other progressive parties would have leverage – through Confidence and Supply arrangements – to require the minority administration to agree to introduce Constitutional Reform in the next parliament.

I suggest that a Tactical Voting arrangement could achieve just that result if only activists could swallow their pride and collaborate for the greater good. Many would undoubtedly find it difficult – even painful – to do what is necessary; but with such a prize to be won, would it really be so much of a sacrifice?

My proposal is to first develop a Campaign for Constitutional Reform; focusing on the PR‑Full element of Constitutional Reform (i.e. a fully-proportional representation process). All other issues relating to Constitutional Reform could then be developed in turn, once that electoral stranglehold was broken.

However, neither Conservative nor Labour would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement which they did not dominate, and none of the smaller parties would be willing to join a Tactical Voting arrangement dominated by Conservative or Labour. Thus, in order to force a hung Commons, all parties other than Conservative or Labour must decline to stand in selected seats, and must encourage their voters to vote tactically.

My analysis of voting projections published by Electoral Calculus has allowed me to identify constituencies forecast to be won by Labour in 453 constituencies, and with Conservative in second place within 126 of those constituencies. I then propose a Tactical Voting arrangement to flip the result in 163 of the most promising constituencies. The result would be a hung Commons, where Labour would have captured 290 (i.e. 453-163) constituencies, and where Conservatives would have captured 289 (i.e. 126+163) constituencies.

Tactical voters in the 163 constituencies would have been faced with only two parties on their ballot slips (i.e. Conservative and Labour), and would be encouraged to vote tactically (i.e. in this case for the Conservative candidate). Thus, there would be no impact on national campaigning (e.g. leadership debates and/or policy campaigning), and no impact on campaigning in any of the remaining 487 constituencies.

The key factor here is that the leadership of the Liberal Democrat, Green, and Reform Parties:

  1. Must support the Campaign for Constitutional Reform.
  2. Must agree with the list of 163 constituencies to be included in the Tactical Voting arrangement.
  3. Must agree with the encouragement to vote Conservative (i.e. to provide the required hung Commons base for a Confidence and Supply arrangement).

The implementation of PR‑Full is just the first stage in my vision of reform. For examples:

  1. The Commons could continue to be populated by the PR‑Full process; to give fully‑proportional representation in the senior Representative Assembly.
  2. The (i.e. the UK Prime Minister) could be appointed by the STV‑1 process; to give every citizen equal rights to choose who should appoint and lead the rest of the Executive.
  3. The House of Lords could be deleted.

Thus, I believe that PR‑Full could be the gateway to a new kind of liberated and liberating politics, and that a Tactical Voting arrangement is the key to that outcome.

* Tim Knight is a LibDem member for 40 or so years and is a one-term member of the ERS Council. He is retired process engineer, with a long-term passionate interest in democratic governance (including, but not limited to electoral and governance processes).

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11 Comments

  • Martin Gray 9th Feb '24 - 7:28pm

    As someone who likes a bet Tim – that’s some throw of the dice . Con & Lab HQ would relish that scenario – as the British voter would find that proposal a bit far fetched .. Significant number of voters only vote at GE’s, and don’t indulge in tactical voting on that scale …

  • I don’t pop by here often. And it’s not April Fools day. So what the flip have I just read…..!

    AIUI then the plan to get PR involves getting Lib Dem voters to vote Tory in 163 designated constituencies whilst being trenchantly opposed to the return of a Tory government. Voters simply cannot be ‘instructed’ by their party leaders – remember even with a relatively high watermark of Lib/Lab co-operation the Labour vote rose in every seat bar one that the Lib Dems gained in 1997. ‘Tactical voting’ was largely illusory.

    Besides that monumental obstacle it would only need the ‘163’ calculation to be out be a small degree and you just returned a minority/small majority Tory Government.

    This is monumentally unworkable way of delivering a monumentally stupid idea.

  • Jonathan Maltz 10th Feb '24 - 5:46am

    Sadly, this simply won’t happen. I’m as idealistic as anyone, but this is really just wishful thinking on the author’s part.

  • Jenny Barnes 10th Feb '24 - 9:52am

    The 2010 LibDems had the opportunity then to insist on PR. Clegg didn’t. These chances don’t happen often. I agree, it’s not a workable idea, and probably not very sensible either.

  • Peter Martin 10th Feb '24 - 10:14am

    It would make more sense for the Greens and Lib Dems to have an electoral alliance which would have a realistic prospect of denting the Labour vote.

    Support for Labour is quite soft and based on little more than a expectation that they wouldn’t be quite as bad as the Tories.

    It wouldn’t take much.

  • Voters aren’t stupid. If they see a tactical vote as a way to achieve the desired result in their constituency, many of them will go for it. It is, however, wrong not to stand candidates in the hope that voters will redirect their vote in a certain way because a) they may not do what you might want and b) it is plain insulting to deny someone the chance to vote for the party they prefer.

  • Stephen Broadhead 10th Feb '24 - 11:25am

    From the above article it seems that Tim is stating ‘Conservative’ instead of ‘Labour.’ I think the above are spelling mistakes.

  • David Garlick. 10th Feb '24 - 10:03pm

    Where Lib Dems are challenging Labour and where they are challenging us we should go for it. Where not voting tactically would see a Tory elected we should put pride and prejudice aside and come up with an arrangement…

  • It’s almost certain Labour will get a majority after the next election, and even if they don’t manage that it’s likely to be a minority government that doesn’t need to form a coalition. Any formal or informal agreements would require competing with other minority parties to have the policy that is most palatable to Labour and those other minority parties.

    I suggest we prioritise pushing for local government elections to be held by STV in England as they are in Scotland, NI and maybe some bits of Wales. There would be some resistance, but it’s an easier sell than going straight for PR/STV for the commons, and could reasonably be implemented within one parliamentary term. That would go hand in hand with AV for Mayoral elections, which many in Labour would welcome. They’d probably prefer a return supplementary votes, but it’s hard to justify when AV is simpler as well as fairer for voters.

    If it’s like Scotland, there would be a period of some people pretending STV is too complicated for voters, but people would quickly get the hang of it and see how much better it is. Hopefully that would then create enough demand from the general public to force it on a future government.

  • Tactical voting where a voter declines to vote for their first preference because their second preference has a much greater chance of winning the seat is – if unlikely to swing more than the closest elections in practice – at least fairly easy to make a case for.

    Tactical voting where a voter is instructed to vote for their fifth preference candidate because they’re the only one who can beat their second preference candidate is not going to be possible to sell to the electorate. If you could reliably influence a substantial proportion of the electorate of a quarter of the constituencies in the country to do something so strange, then you could far more easily just influence a similar number of people to vote Lib Dem and get a record number of seats.

  • Peter Hirst 17th Feb '24 - 2:07pm

    The path to electoral reform is uncertain. If it is sufficiently popular based on polls then it could be introduced by whatever government wins the GE. It is the gateway to a huge raft of other reforms that we desparately need. An initial nationwide poll or referendum is another possibility.

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