Lord Paul Tyler writes… Voting tactically to end tactical voting

New polling for the ERS on #DemocracyDay today (Thursday 5th) shows that 80% of people feel they have little or no influence on how decisions are made, and 85% think our political institutions need significant improvement.

We now know that around a huge proportion of Labour supporters are likely to vote tactically (almost all for Liberal Democrat candidates) and a similar number of Liberal Democrats will do likewise (most for Labour candidates). These well-informed citizens are determined not to be cheated again by the absurdly anachronistic and unfair electoral system.

They wouldn’t have to vote tactically if a proportional system operated in this election. If we all enjoyed the STV preferential ballot which the Lab/Lib Dem Coalition introduced for local elections in Scotland almost every vote would count – there 95% of those who vote are represented by councillors they have helped to win. In England and Wales barely half can say that.

If recent governments (of both extremes ) had been more interested in effective democracy than the survival of their “Buggins Turn” duet, then every voter in this General Election could be confident that their voice would be heard.

As it is, they have to resort to a tactical choice between the candidate or party they least favour on the one hand, and the candidate most likely to succeed instead on the other.

Without this tactical voting, the next Parliament will be almost certainly as unrepresentative and undemocratic as the previous two. The First-Past-The -Post system may have worked in the middle of the last century but it is no longer fit for purpose now.

Far from delivering “strong and stable”, long lived and clearly mandated administrations it simply produces a distorted picture of the nation’s true wishes and needs.

For the time being, tactical voting offers electors a meaningful choice.

If they use their opportunity in this positive way they can win with candidates they prefer – and hopefully elect enough MPs who are also committed to supporting reform to “make votes matter” – so they don’t have to vote tactically ever again.

Despite our best efforts, political reform has been largely ignored by the media in this general election campaign.

This DemocracyDay, we are all speaking up for the change that’s needed in Westminster.

Sign the ERS’ petition for proportional representation and tweet using the #DemocracyDay hashtag about what reforms you’d like to see.

* Lord Tyler is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Political and Constitutional Reform.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 5th Dec '19 - 10:18am

    When 70% of the media is owned/controlled by just a couple of organisations largely Tory leaning they will not be interested in change. They prefer the status quo.

  • lloyd harris 5th Dec '19 - 10:33am

    Labour have not supported PR at Westminster as they benefit for FPTP. I am not expecting them to change any time soon. If they wanted it, it would have happened under the Blair/Brown governments following the Jenkins report.

  • Peter Martin 5th Dec '19 - 10:34am

    I personally would prefer the AV system. It works very well in Australia. It produces stable governments at the same time as maintaining the link between MPs and their constituents. But that suggestion was lost in a referendum. And we have to respect referendum results, don’t we? 🙂

    There is really no evidence that there is a popular clamour for a more proportional system.

    So it looks like we’re stuck with the FPTP system for the foreseeable future.

  • Rodney Watts 5th Dec '19 - 10:45am

    @ nigel hunter. What you say is so true and it has been the MSM that has amplified the smearing of the Labour Party with both false and exaggerated claims of anti-Semitism. The latter has partly led to lack of formal Lib-Lab cooperation, which should have occurred, in standing down in key constituencies.

    However, Paul, you are surely correct in saying a lot of us will be voting tactically to do our bit to stop Brexit. It’s some time ago that you were MP in Cornwall, and it is to the credit of a young cornishman Owen Winter who started the grass roots movement for PR Make Votes Matter. At least this election has truly highlighted the deficiencies of FPTP

  • nvelope2003 5th Dec '19 - 11:07am

    Peter Martin: AV has often produced stable governments in Australia but it has also produced frequent changes recently.

    PR was introduced for local elections in Scotland by a Government formed after a PR election for the Scottish Parliament which was required by the Scotland Act. Under what circumstances would a change to the voting system be introduced for the House of Commons ?
    It would be best to try and get a change for local elections which might benefit both of the larger parties by giving them some councillors in places where they have none such as no Conservatives in Manchester and no Labour in parts of the South and South West.
    There is quite a lot of opposition to the present huge House of Lords and we should advocate its replacement by a small Senate elected by proportional representation which I think could be popular. It would then have the moral right to reject legislation even if its actual powers were limited, although a fully elected Upper House would be justified in having more powers especially over constitutional reforms and other fundamental changes.

  • @Paul Tyler

    Since Labour doesn’t support PR (not in manifesto, leadership not and will never be sincerely interested), I’d question your assertion that Liberal Democrats who plan to “vote tactically” are well informed. Especially since the Labour Party will be pursuing it’s own Brexit, is engulfed in a long drawn out anti-Semitism crisis, and whose policies are socialist. Not much for Liberals to vote tactically for there

  • @Rodney Watts

    The anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is VERY really unfortunately. Please don’t demean this very real and disgusting anti-Semitism that British Jews are facing as “false” and “exaggerated”.

    Furthermore Labour won’t “cooperate” with the Lib Dems because the Labour Party, by and large, is made up of unpleasant bullies with a sense of entitlement to rule, with “cooperation” in their book meaning rolling over for whatever they want without any reciprocity. Furthermore given how authoritarian, regressive and toxic the Labour Party is, it isn’t a realistic partner for tje Lib Dems to cooperate with. Why should Liberals cooperate with such a party of hate?

  • nvelope2003 5th Dec '19 - 2:16pm

    Labour has had a policy of not cooperating with other parties since 1918 and it is unlikely to change as it has mostly worked for them and they know that if the Liberal Democrats withdrew a candidate half their supporters would vote Conservative and half would vote Labour so gaining nothing but if the Labour candidate withdrew most might vote Liberal Democrat and some would vote Green or not vote at all so it is not much use for them.

  • Rodney Watts 5th Dec '19 - 2:48pm

    @James Pugh
    ‘The anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is VERY really unfortunately. Please don’t demean this very real and disgusting anti-Semitism that British Jews are facing as “false” and “exaggerated”.’

    As a Jewish LibDem and signatory together with over 2000 others to Jews for Justice for Palestinians I am aware of about 150 who support Jewish Voice For Labour (JVL) My assessment above summarises their published statistical report based on sound evidence: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/check-evidence/ My Jewish LibDem colleague, Miranda Pinch, also concurs. JVL has a different standpoint from Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) which is a Zionist movement and is behind much of the disgraceful weaponisation of Antisemitism, to discredit primarily Jeremy Corbyn but also the Labour Party. I do not support Jeremy Corbyn’s socio-economic position, but he is no anti-Semite. I have just heard on the BBC News, that JLM are still pushing their scurrilous accusations, but why would Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC , pre-eminent Jewish Human Rights lawyer and Naomi Wayne, former enforcer for the Equality Commission in Norther Ireland among other eminent Jews be defending the Labour Party?

    I have to say also that I do not recognise your desciption of the Labour Party , by and large, as made up of unpleasant bullies.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Dec '19 - 3:49pm

    Please will folks read what Nick Clegg wrote about this?
    His book is widely available in public libraries and all good internet booksellers.
    This constituency was home to the late Enid Lakeman, a prominent campaigner for STV.
    When we controlled the borough council a road was named after her.
    It is a short road, but she was not very tall.
    Former Tory leader, Michael Howard, now a peer and not to be confused with his eminent namesake of recent obituary, would go on tv and say that Paddy Ashdown disliked AV, which had an element of truth in it.
    I would prefer to quote Charles Kennedy, who politely explained the extreme difficulty of persuading Scottish Labour to support STV for local government in Scotland, right at the end of the coalition in the Edinburgh parliament.
    London elects borough councillors every four years first past the post, second past the post and third past the post, so a reform introducing STV would be highly suitable for them. They also have a form of regional government. The mayor of Greater London needs second preference votes. Even Tony Blair could not count higher than two. There is also an assembly, elected partly by list PR, which does not allow electors to vote for anyone except the leader. That looks and is authoritarian in practice, but the transition to New Labour was gradual. Perhaps he would be uncomfortable to see these powers in the hands of others.
    Party list PR was used for the first general election in South Africa which also had a universal franchise. That was necessary, but the same system continues, which is not.

  • Ross McLean 5th Dec '19 - 9:26pm

    The document leaked today by the Jewish Labour Movement should be read by anyone who is thinking of casting a Labour tactical vote. It is a truly horrifying read. https://www.scribd.com/document/438367082/Redacted-JLM-Closing-Submission-to-the-EHRC

  • James Moore 6th Dec '19 - 8:38am

    Tactically voting for Labour to get voting reform is a very silly suggestion indeed.

  • John Marriott 6th Dec '19 - 8:57am

    If the polls are to be believed, and there really is doubt this time, then we appear to be back to two party politics. Certainly, that appears to suit the media, and quite a few electors too!

    I shall always remember the comments when the Coalition government was formed, like “We didn’t vote for this” or “The Lib Dems are selling out”. Many people like things to be simple: black or white, yes or no, blue or red. As John Cleese said in his famous SDP PPB back in the 1980s on STV, something like; “Well, if you can’t count up to five, you may have a problem”.

    PR invariably leads to coalitions elsewhere. If we ever do get proper PR we had better get used to them!

  • John Hall:
    I think it was the Heath government in the early 70’s who introduced STV for NI local elections, not Thatcher.
    This was after consistent jaw droppingly Jerry Mandering since the 1920’s to ensure the “right” people ran local councils there. Plus of course the ongoing troubles at the time.
    Heath also proposed STV for NI Westminster elections, but that was rejected as being too much like Dail elections, which just couldn’t be so in Unionist eyes.
    When we were in coalition, we should have demanded STV for local elections in the initial agreement, but a golden opportunity was lost.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Dec '19 - 9:32am

    John Marriott

    I shall always remember the comments when the Coalition government was formed, like “We didn’t vote for this” or “The Lib Dems are selling out”.

    That is contradictory to the idea that whatever party gets the most votes, even if way below an actual majority, should have complete power. It doesn’t make sense to me to complain about the LibDems not doing enough to stop the party that got the most votes from getting what it wanted and then saying what there should be is more Conservatives so they get exactly what they want.

    I.e. if they were being logical, those who say we should have a disproportional representation system so that the biggest party gets complete power even if it has well under half the votes should complain about the LibDems stopping the Conservatives getting everything they wanted rather than the other way round. If the LibDems were just to vote for whatever the Conservatives wanted, that would have turned the Coalition into a completely Conservative government, which is what opponents of proportional representation e.g. the Labour Party say is what they wanted in 2010.

  • Denis Mollison 6th Dec '19 - 9:49am

    @Ross McLean – JLM are an avowedly pro-Zionist organisation. For an alternative view, see https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/rebuttals/

  • Denis Mollison 6th Dec '19 - 10:05am

    It would be good to get this thread back to its core topic, the way this election reveals the appalling distortions of our voting system.

    If (as I hope) this election does lead to a hung parliament, we will have to decide who to support. Our guiding principle should be “which party/parties will implement key Lib Dem policies?”. On a second Brexit Referendum, tackling climate change, defending the NHS from predatory privatisation, we are far closer to Labour than the Conservatives. Labour are also more open to some movement on electoral reform: if the numbers were right we (with the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens – and even the Brexit Party (it’s their one policy we agree with!)) could demand electoral reform for Westminster; if in a less strong position, we might at least get a constitutional convention/assembly. So we need to be keeping the door open to negotiation with Labour. Attacking their policies is fair enough, but we should keep out of the anti-semitism smear campaign: other parties, particularly the Conservatives, have much bigger racist and discrimination problems.

  • John Marriott: we always expect much too much from General Eelections and never learn the lesson. I understand we have employed/recruited 100 field agents so again massive expectation. BUT we lost 360 deposits last time and in scores of others seats got less than 10%. In those places the voters know the reality, what is the point of voting Lib Dem, so it becomes a two party election. Can someone explain the common sense and reality in the seat 320 target. Most of us just smiled and said Oh Yeah. I cry into my corn flakes every morning just thinking about it.

  • Denis Mollison is correct in both his diagnosis and prognosis.

    Sadly another car crash on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour this morning which descended into chaos based on the unrealistic claim, ‘I’m standing to be Prime Minister’. Whoever advised on that line needs to take a good hard look into the mirror. Politics is (or ought to be) for grown ups with good judgement and mature opinions on what sounds credible and realistic..

  • Barry Lofty 6th Dec '19 - 11:55am

    We should not be making deals with either the Tories or Labour whilst their present leadership’s are in control. A plague on both their houses!

  • nvelope2003 6th Dec '19 - 12:07pm

    After 2 years of chaos with a hung parliament I do not think many voters would want another one so what option was there ? I can just see them warming to the slogan “give us the balance of power” after what happened in 2015. Every time I heard anyone speak they just wanted Brexit sorted and a majority Government. That and fear of a Corbyn Government is why the party is not doing well. At least Swinson tried to answer the questions.
    Sadly the Liberal Democrats only do well after a long period of Conservative rule and/or where there are doubts about a possible Labour Governmet- for example 1964, 1983 & 1997 although past performance cannot be a guide to the future. Roll on 2024 but I fear there might be another election before that after the repeal of the Fixed Parliament Act.

  • Jonathan Coulter 6th Dec '19 - 1:25pm

    Denis Mollison sums up the thoughts of many Lib Dems. I would add that in the event that Boris romps home and there is no hung Parliament, we shall have even greater reason to work with Labour. Moreover, the shock of defeat will encourage Labour to look for allies, for example in a centre-left pact that includes a move towards PR.
    To accomplish this we shall need to define areas where we agree with Labour and can work with them and those where we must oppose. Effective regulation of the media, as per Leveson, discussed by Hugh Grant in a recent post, should be a top priority for working together. But we must not go on wasting political capital attacking Jeremy Corbyn in areas where has got it right, notably: (a) his pointing out that our Middle-Eastern wars have contributed to the growth of terrorism (a view supported by seasoned intelligence professionals, but condemned by Tim Farron), and; (b) his long-term support for peace with justice in Palestine – which has caused him to be endlessly smeared about antisemitism.
    I think Lib Dem Voice has a major role to play in fostering an ongoing debate in this subject area. However, to accomplish this it must live up to its declared role as “a neutral platform where the views of all members are welcome”. This means resisting the temptation to curtail debate in favour of a party line dictated by the leadership of the day.

  • Rodney Watts 6th Dec '19 - 7:49pm

    Some very well put and constructive comments on what realistically might be achieved on and after the GE. Sadly our leadership, have believed and broadcast the ‘rampant antisemitism’ accusations against the Labour Party. This must make it more difficult for agreement concerning standing down in key constituencies such as those of Boris J. or Dominic Raab, but I do hope that the appeal by 130 remain organisations to Jo and Jeremy C is heeded. I for one admire people who put country above party.

    One commentator has said that Labour has had a policy since 1918 of non-cooperation. However I remember: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lib-Lab_pact

    Ross McLean has given a link to the conveniently timed leaked JLM report to the EHRC, aired on BBC News that I referred to above. This is the first time I have had sight and obviously not had time to read it all nor the ability, anyway, to do the checking that we assume the EHRC is doing. However among the ‘High Profile Cases’ I note Jackie Walker is cited. – A black Jew and so far as I know it was for stating the fact that Jews were involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Shame on Corbyn for allowing her to be expelled from the LP. Jewish Voice for Labour have issued a copy of complaint letter to
    the BBC: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/jews-antisemitism-and-labour-a-letter-to-the-bbc/

  • “One commentator has said that Labour has had a policy since 1918 of non-cooperation”.

    Which, of course, is only a very partial truth. Labour formed a prominent part in the WW11 Coalition Government, and I well remember co-operation between David Steel and Jim Callaghan in the late 1970’s. There was even co-operation up to a point between Paddy Ashdown and Tony Blair.

  • Christine Headley 6th Dec '19 - 9:58pm

    @David Raw I had just joined the Liberals at the time of the Lib Lab Pact. I don’t remember our gaining anything from it. It was just that neither we nor Labour wanted an earlier election. When we did want an election, there was a vote of no confidence and May 1979 swiftly followed. (Another election would have had to be called within six months, anyway.)

  • I wasn’t claiming the Liberals got anything from it, Christine. I was merely stating that the Labour Party didn’t always operate a non-co-operation policy.

    I believe they did get a reduction in fuel tax in rural ares (5p) – although Healey and Pardoe didn’t exactly hit it off.

    Here’s a link to look up from the Liberal History group :

    Joint Statement on the Lib-Lab Pact: Steel and Callaghan …
    https://liberalhistory.org.uk › history › joint-statement-on-the-lib-lab-pact-s…
    11 Aug 2015 – Joint statement issued by Prime Minister James Callaghan and David Steel on the aims of the Lib-Lab pact issued 23rd March 1977.

  • nvelope2003 7th Dec '19 - 10:03am

    The Labour party always stand candidates in every constituency although before 1950 they did not contest all of them because they had no organisation in some of them, particularly in rural areas. That does not mean they would refuse to accept the votes of Liberal Democrat or other MPs to get their legislation through the House of Commons. I do not think the war time coalition is relevant. The country was fighting for its freedom not arguing over railway franchises – Labour could do that after we were victorious. They would have been sent to concentration camps if not and they knew it.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Dec '19 - 10:17am

    Perhaps it is wishful thinking but I see the dying days of the two party system with its underlying foundation, FPTP. The two are as close as pork and pie and will share the same grave. It was heartening to see the Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP agree on the need for change before last night’s debate on Sky News. A new dawn is breaking and let’s hope it’s soon.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '19 - 9:39am

    Peter Hirst: The Liberal Democrats and Greens would both benefit from PR and so would Plaid Cymru. The SNP would not at the moment but maybe they fear that their mismanagement of Scotland and other changes will leave to a drop in support and that is why they are so desperate for another independence referendum before it is too late.
    If Corbyn agrees to another referendum and the SNP gets independence it will be very hard for Labour to form a Government without their support in the House of Commons. If they lose again then Labour might recover which is no doubt why they want the referendum postponed as long as possible.
    However there is a feeling that for the SNP to win, independence will not mean a complete separation and Scottish MPs will still sit at Westminster as part of the deal. Maybe we will soon have Southern Irish MPs again after almost 100 years !

  • @ nvelop2003 I continue to be astonished at some the opinions based on no evidence whatsoever that keep floating and vaporising over the Border from down South. I don’t vote for the SNP, but for the record in, and in the interests of accuracy and honesty, here’s what the SNP have consistently said, about proportional representation and democracy.

    SNP Manifesto “We continue to work for democratic reform too. We believe that the House of Lords is an affront to democracy and should be abolished. We will continue to call for the first past the post voting system to be replaced at Westminster with proportional representation, so that every vote and every part of the country counts. We have already extended the franchise in Scottish and local elections to 16 and 17 year olds and will use new powers to protect the voting rights of EU citizens too”.

    They continue, to refuse to take part in the unelected House of Lords. Their, “mismanagement of Scotland and other changes” is a judgement call… but, again in fairness, their record cannot be equated with the mismanagement of the first past the post 2010-19 Westminster governments’ infliction of austerity which has caused so much misery to the most vulnerable.

    But, hey, what do I know ? I’m only a Yorkshireman who’s enjoyed living and participating in Scotland for the last fifteen years. I’m not sure where you’re based Mr envelope.

  • nvelope2003 9th Dec '19 - 11:43am

    Mr Raw: I do not disagree with any of that except that the House of Lords should be replaced by a Senate elected by proportional representation with powers to veto constitutional and other fundamental changes. I assume that the SNP do not want a Second Chamber and maybe with PR for the Commons they think it would not be necessary but if Scotland becomes a completely independent country it would be irrelevant to them. Somehow the wording of their plans gives me the feeling that they do not really believe that is going to happen otherwise why are they interested in reform of the Westminster Parliament if they are not going to be there ?
    It would be a rather strange thing if Britain was divided into two, possibly three, “sovereign” states and Ireland also divided into a sovereign state and a province of England, presumably so that the Conservatives can rely on the DUP in case they need to and not have to worry about a large number of SNP/Plaid/Labour MPs denying them a perpetual majority in the English Parliament. Not sure I would like that at all.
    One Ireland and one Britain sounds much better.

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