Tactical voting in the 2019 general election

It’s possible you’ve seen discussions on social media about tactical voting, and websites promoting insight into how best to vote to remove the Conservatives from government.

Although on the surface very helpful, like with everything it is important to question the provenance of the website, and consider whether the data its offering is reliable, otherwise you might end up with an undesirable result ─ and a wasted vote!

This article will not be linking to tactical voting websites. It will instead break down what the term means, and offer suggestions on how you can find the information to vote tactically, should you choose to.

What is tactical voting?

Tactical voting is, as the name suggests, voting in a tactical manner to try and bring about a specific outcome. Now, that might just sound like voting ─ after all, you’re voting for your preference ─ but tactical voting here means possibly not voting for your first preference in an attempt to stop your last choice getting in.

But, let’s cut the hypotheticals. When people talk of tactical voting in this general election, they are talking about voting in a manner that deprives the Conservatives of a majority.

People in traditionally Conservative constituencies who tactically vote will be voting for the candidate that has the best chance of unseating the incumbent, rather than necessarily their first choice candidate. This might mean that a Labour supporter votes for a Liberal Democrat candidate if they are seen as the most likely non-Conservative candidate for the seat, or vice-versa.

Why would someone tactically vote?

Generally, people tend not to vote tactically, but increasingly Brexit has been the backdrop of all voting opportunities, and people view Brexit as a more pressing issue than traditional party allegiances.

Those people perceive this general election as the last chance to prevent Brexit. The Conservatives (and the Brexit Party) are both running on a campaign of finishing Brexit and pulling us out of the EU, and people believe that voting to curtail the Conservative majority will remove that option.

Others simply believe that stopping the Conservatives getting back in for another five years, after the nine they have already have, is so important they are willing to swallow voting for another candidate.

In simple terms, people are suggesting a tactical vote in this election because they don’t like the Conservative government, and want them gone.

Should I tactically vote?

That depends. We won’t tell you who to vote for, but there are a number of questions you should ask yourself:

  1. Do you want a Conservative government? If yes, then your tactical vote is to just vote Conservative.

  2. Do you want Brexit to happen? If yes, then your tactical vote is to vote for Conservatives, or the Brexit Party where Conservative’s aren’t running

If you answered no to one or both of the statements above, then tactical voting might be of interest to you. However, you will further need to ask yourself:

  1. Am I able to vote for a candidate I don’t fully support, to prevent a candidate getting in I definitely don’t support?

If the answer is yes, then you should probably consider voting tactically. This is doubly the case if having a final say on Brexit is your primary concern, as all other parties have stated support for a second referendum.

How do I tactically vote?

As I previously said, there are websites floating around that will allegedly tell you who the best candidate is to vote for to stop a Conservative majority forming. Some are slightly dubious, and you have to consider that they may have been set up to give you false information to lead to a ‘wasted’ vote.

The most sensible option is to look at voting trends in your constituency and, if it is currently held by the Conservatives, see which party came second in prior elections. You may notice that there is a party repeatedly coming up in second place, and if so, you should vote for that candidate.

You can find historic general election results online, or the BBC let you see the results of the last two elections on their website.

As with most things political, nothing is a certainty, and you voting for a consistent runner-up isn’t a guarantee to change the result. Some areas are ‘safe seats’ for political parties, be it Labour or Conservative, and expecting that to change is optimistic. Still every vote for an alternative party is one less for the incumbent, so don’t let that deter you.

If, however, a seat has consistently not been Conservative, you are probably best served to vote for the incumbent party.

What if I’m a student?

Then congratulations, you get the added complexity of deciding where to vote in addition of who to vote for.

Presuming you registered to vote at both your home and term-time address, you are eligible to vote at either. You will want to research where your vote can do the most good. One of your addresses might be in a ‘swing’ seat, which means it isn’t consistently won by a particular party, and the majority held is usually only in the low thousands,

If, for instance, your term-time address is in a ‘swing’ constituency, but the MP of your home constituency has a large majority, your vote is likely to have more impact at your term address, and you might want to stay at uni to vote there.

Once you’ve made the decision of where to vote, and you want to tactically vote to remove (or keep out) the Conservatives, you can then proceed to assess the best candidate to give your vote too.

Final thoughts

This is not an article saying that you should tactically vote, and we would never presume to tell you who to vote for.

Voting is an incredibly personal thing, and who you vote for has to be up to you. Tactical voting is always a risky decision to make, as there is no guarantee it works. Equally, if you decide to vote for someone who you can’t personally stand but hate less than someone else, if they win you are still represented by that person for five years. However, depending on your priorities, for example stopping Brexit or removing a Conservative government, that might be a pill you can swallow.

I will encourage you though to think about everything written above, and also have a look at the manifesto breakdowns we have created. In them, we pull out every policy the main national parties have announced that relate to Brexit, young people, education, and culture.

If voting by post, please remember that your ballot has to reach the Electoral Office by 10pm on 12 December, which is the day of the election, so send it off before then.

Finally, always be mindful of where you’re reading news, and try where possible to check sources.

How to vote in general elections

In the UK, we hold elections to select our MPs. That vote, called a general election, decides how many MPs each party has in Parliament, and will subsequently dictate which party will get to form a government.

Until 2011, when the Fixed Term Parliament Act (FTPA) was passed, a prime minister was able to call for an election whenever they liked. The FTPA changed that so, unless one of the conditions was met, elections would be held on the first Thursday of May every five years.

You must register to vote

The first thing to know is that you have to register to vote. In England, Northern Ireland and Wales, you can register to vote when you are 17 years old. In Scotland you can register to vote when you are 15 years old.

Regardless of when you registered, you won’t be able to vote in a general election until you are 18.

To be eligible to vote in a UK general election you also need to be the following:

  • A UK, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen

  • Living at an address in the UK

    • If you are a UK citizen living abroad you need to have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years

  • Not legally excluded from voting

You are excluded from voting in a general election if you are any of the following:

  • Someone found guilty of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election in the last five years

  • A convicted person who is currently being detained

  • Anyone of a nationality outside of UK, Irish, Cyprus or Malta

    • This includes EU citizens, who can register to vote in other elections in the UK

  • A member of the House of Lords

How do I register to vote?

 Providing that you meet all of the conditions above, registering to vote is simple, and should only take five minutes.

You will require your national insurance number, or your passport if you’re a British citizen living abroad.

More information, and the link to register to vote can be found on the Register to Vote website.

How do I vote?

Once you are registered to vote, you then need to wait for a general election to be called. You are then able to vote in one of three ways:

  • Voting in person on the day

  • Voting by post

  • Voting by proxy

Voting in person

If you’re going to vote in person, you will be going to a polling station to cast your ballot. You will receive a letter before the election that tells you where your polling station will be. Polling stations are open from 07:00 to 22:00, so make sure you are able to get on the day, if not, look to vote via one of the other methods.

On the day, voting is very simple.

When you arrive at the polling station, you make yourself known to the staff at the polling station. They will give you a ballot paper that lists all of the candidates you can vote for.

You will then be directed towards a polling booth which provides some privacy, so people cannot see how you vote. Read the instructions on the ballot paper, as it explains how you should vote.

Typically there will be a list of candidates, as well as the parties (if any) that they are affiliated with, and a box. You should put a cross in the box of the candidate you wish to vote for. Do not make any other marks on the paper or your vote may not be counted. If you make a mistake, just let a staff member know.

Once you have marked your selection, fold your ballot paper in half and then place it in the ballot box.

It’s as simple as that!

Voting by post

To do a postal vote, you will first need to print out and complete a form, and then send it to your local authority. You can find the form on the Government website.

You will receive your ballot papers in the post only after the deadline to become a candidate has passed. If you have any concerns, you should contact the elections team at your local council who will be able to help you.

Once you receive your postal ballot, you will need to make your vote and post the ballot paper back so it arrives before 22:00 on the day of the election — if you don’t then your vote won’t be counted.

It is important when you receive your postal vote that you don’t let anybody else have access to it. Complete your vote in secret, and if possible take the postal vote to the post box on your own. If it’s not possible, make sure you hand your vote to someone you trust. You could also ring your local election team to see if anyone is able to pick your vote up for you.

Once your postal ballot is in the postbox, that’s it, you’re done!

Voting by proxy

If you aren’t able to cast your vote in person, you might be able to vote by proxy. Unlike a postal vote, you must provide a reason for why you want to to vote by proxy. There are only certain reasons why you can request a proxy vote.

  • If you aren’t able to go to the polling station because you’re away

  • If you have a physical condition that prevents you from getting to the polling station

  • If you can’t get to the polling station because of your job

  • If you can’t get to the polling station because you’re on an educational course that prevents it

  • If you’re an eligible voter who lives overseas

  • If you are a member of the Armed Forces or a crown servant

To register for a proxy vote you will need to fill out a form and return it to your local Electoral Registration Office. There are different forms depending on why it is you are requesting the proxy. All of the forms can be found on the Government website, but please make sure you fill out the right one.

I’ve been appointed as someone’s proxy, what do I do?

As a proxy, you are voting on behalf of someone else. You can be a proxy for close relatives, and then two other people. You can only act as a proxy if you are 18 or older. Make sure you know how the person you’re proxy voting for wants to vote.

On the day, you will be required to go to the polling station of the person you’re proxy voting for. You should receive a proxy poll card telling you where this is. It could be different from your own polling station, so make sure you check! If you are unable to get to their polling station on the day, then you can apply to vote for them by post by 17:00 11 days before the general election date.

The person who nominated you to vote as their proxy can still vote themselves, providing they do so before you have voted for them, and as long as you haven’t requested a postal vote.

Emergency proxy vote

There may be certain circumstances where it turns out you are no longer able to go to the polling station as expected. You can apply for an emergency proxy from the sixth working day before the election date, right up until 17:00 on the day of the election.

You can apply for an emergency proxy based on either disability, or occupation, service or employment. You will have to fill out a form for either of those situations, and be able to prove that you found out that you can’t vote in person after the usual deadline.

If you want to apply for an emergency proxy based on disability, download this form and follow the instructions.

If you want to apply for an emergency proxy based on occupation, service or employment, download this form and follow the instructions.

If you need information or help, contact your local Electoral Registration Office.

Is there anything else I need to know?

Voting is an incredibly important civic duty, and if it’s your first time it can be very exciting. You might want to take pictures of the event to share on social media — but there are certain things you need to know. While it is fine to take pictures of you outside the polling station, it is important you don’t take pictures inside the polling station, or pictures of your ballot. There are strict requirements over secrecy of people’s ballots, and capturing a picture of someone’s ballot – even inadvertently – could find you in breach of those requirements.

If you move house you will need to register again so your ballot paper is available at your nearest polling station.

This article also appeared on UKPolitics.wtf – a new website that explains how politics in the UK works.

What does prorogation mean, and how will this impact Brexit?

In the latest of a series of escalating actions, Boris Johnson has announced that Parliament will be suspended for five weeks at some point week commencing 9 September, and will not reconvene until the 14 October. We will explain how this suspension is happening, the impact it could have on Brexit, why people are calling it an affront to democracy, and how the Queen is involved.

What is proroguing?

Simply put, prorogation is the formal mechanism for ending a session of Parliament. These are a common event in British politics, usually happening every autumn.

The suspension of Parliament (prorogation) is then proceeded by the State Opening of Parliament. This is an elaborate ceremony demonstrating the independence of Parliament from the monarch, and includes the slamming of the door on Black Rod, taking an MP ‘hostage’ and, most importantly, the Queen’s speech in the House of Lords, which details the legislative agenda for the government during the new session of Parliament.

It could be argued (and the Government is adopting this line) that this is simply business as usual, and is in fact overdue since there hasn’t been a Queen’s speech since 2017, making the current Parliament session the longest in nearly 400 years.

If it’s normal, why is this such a big deal?

Although a normal element in the cycle of Parliament, there are a number of factors that make the decision to prorogate now controversial.

Firstly, Parliament is being suspended for five weeks. Even if the Brexit deadline wasn’t just 17 days after the start of the new Parliament session, it would still be the longest period of prorogation since 1945. It is very rare in modern times that Parliament be suspended for more than a week.

However, it is important to note that the five week period does include three weeks where Parliament would normally have been suspended anyway, to allow for Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat party conferences. On the other hand, there were suggestions that MPs were considering voting to cancel that recess so there was proper time to debate Brexit legislation.

Towards the end of Theresa May’s tenure as Prime Minister, and more so during the Conservative leadership elections, there were discussions around closing Parliament to prevent it from having input on any Brexit deal. This was particularly the case after the government faced a number of defeats on the Withdrawal Agreement. At the time it was seen as the musings of the far-right fringes of the Conservative Party, and not a serious plan because of the democratic implications it would have.

It’s all the more controversial because Boris Johnson, as well as many in his cabinet (Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Andrea Leadson, Matt Hancock, Sajid Javid and others) all said that they would not support the closing of Parliament to push through Brexit. They are now notably silent.

The prevailing opinion is that, contrary to the government’s position that this is normal procedure, the decision to suspend Parliament now has been made to limit the time that MPs will have to debate any legislation and, perhaps intentionally, stop Parliament from passing legislation that binds the government’s hands into avoiding a no-deal. This is seen as a complete affront to democracy, where elected representatives are being cut out of the decision making process, and concentrating power with the few who work within the cabinet.

How is the Queen involved?

TL;DR – The Queen is the head of state, and everything happens with her consent.

This is however a very simplified understanding of British politics, and the reality is a lot more nuanced.

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, meaning that the monarch (ie. the Queen) is the head of state, and operates within a constitutional framework. Unlike countries such as the United States, the UK does not have a codified constitution, by which we mean a single document with the whole framework for governance written down. In some ways this is good, because it offers a nimbleness and flexibility that other countries don’t have (gun control, anyone?) but on the other hand, it leaves a lot to interpretation, and the respect of traditions and norms.

The Queen is the head of state, and ‘officially’ has royal prerogative, meaning that Parliament and the Government (also referred to as the executive) serve at her request, and every bill passed requires royal assent.  However, the reality is that the powers of a monarch are now limited. Between the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (1689), the monarch ultimately only exercises their power to open and close Parliament and to select a prime minister. Even with those tasks, convention says the individual selected for prime minister is the leader of the largest party in a general election, and it is then the prime minister that advises the monarch to dissolve Parliament. A monarch hasn’t signed a bill in person since the 16th century, instead writing a letter to state that they give consent, or appointing a Lord to inform both Houses that consent has been granted.

Even the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament is written by the Government.

Could she have declined Boris Johnson’s request?

Officially, as written above, the Queen is the head of state, and Parliament and the executive government serves with her consent and devolved royal prerogative, so she technically has the power to decline the request. However, it would have been a complete departure from tradition – and likely would have invoked a constitutional crisis – had she do so.

Power has shifted from the monarch to the Government, and although the Queen meets weekly with the Prime Minister, and she can offer advice and opinions, they aren’t obligated to consider it.
The last time Royal Assent was withheld was in 1707 by Queen Anne, who blocked a Scottish Militia Bill.

Can prorogation be stopped?

This is currently the big question, with a simple and a complex answer – obviously.

The simple answer is no. Prorogation is not something that MPs vote on (the PM instructs the monarch to do it) so isn’t something that can be stopped within Parliament. According to leaked government correspondence, the attorney general Geoffrey Cox is reportedly of the opinion that shutting parliament is possible, unless action taken in the courts to block the move.

Unsurprisingly, there are currently a number of legal options currently being explored. 75 MPs, led by SNP MP Joanna Cherry and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, began legal action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh last month to prevent a Parliament shut down, and are now seeking an interim interdict (Scottish version of an injunction) to prevent the government’s plans to shut down Parliament until their original case is heard on 6 September.

Campaigner Gina Miller, who previously won a court case that required the Government to legislate Article 50 through Parliament, has also stated that her lawyers have made an urgent application to the high court for a judicial review of the plans.

More interesting, is the report that the MEPs (Members of European Parliament) are currently organising to trigger an investigation into the government for breaching the rule of law, under Article 7 of the EU’s founding treaty. The rule of law, in context to the UK, was established in the Magna Carta in 1215, and has many separate ideas. The key aspects here are that there are checks and balances against unfettered power, and that nobody – not even governments (or monarchs, at the time) – are above the law.

Are there any other options?

Parliament returns from recess on 3 September, and will (at time of writing) be suspended again at some point during the week commencing 9 September. This gives MPs who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit, or dislike that the Government is potentially trying to circumvent Parliament, just one week to come up with a plan.

Humble address

One plan currently circulating is a “humble address”. This is a motion tabled by the Opposition that is a formal message to the Queen. It can be debated, amended and voted upon the same way any other motion can, and once agreed they are considered to be binding. Should the government opt to ignore a humble address, they would be considered in contempt of Parliament. It was the case that humble addresses were infrequently used, but in the last few years they have been used to effect by forcing the government to publish both their Brexit economic impact assessments, and the legal advice of the attorney general regarding the Irish backstop.

Emergency debate

Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, has described Boris Johnson’s plans to prorogue parliament as “a constitutional outrage”. Bercow represents the interests of the Commons, and is the individual charged with enforcing (or bending, depending on your opinion) parliamentary procedure. It is widely expected that he will ensure there be time during the first week to allow MPs to pass legislation to limit Johnson’s plans, perhaps through an emergency debate.

Vote of no confidence

A few weeks ago, Corbyn wrote a letter to MPs inviting them to support him in issuing a vote of no confidence and bringing down the government. He proposed that he lead a caretaker (temporary) government that would seek an extension to Article 50 and then dissolve Parliament for a general election, and committed to delivering a final referendum over Brexit if Labour wins. The plan was originally rejected by would-be no-deal opponents, such as Tory MP Dominic Grieve and Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson, but they later agreed to meet and discuss plans. It was decided that a vote of no confidence would be a last resort, if legislative movements failed. The Leader of the Opposition would be the assumed replacement for prime minister, but Corbyn’s brand is such that he might struggle to command a majority for support.

Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011, if a vote of no confidence is successfully voted on, Parliament then has 14 days to find someone who they think is best suited to become the Prime Minister, otherwise a general election is triggered. The incumbent can also force a general election earlier if they can get two-thirds of the House to support it.

A general election is not immediately the desired outcome, as the date is set by the government, who can just schedule it for after the deadline.

Can a no-deal be stopped?

Because the UK has triggered Article 50, there needs to be a deal in place to prevent us from leaving without a deal. It may seem obvious, but a no-deal will happen in the absence of a deal. The only way to prevent it is to either sign a deal, or revoke Article 50.

Without decisive action from MPs (and the time to actually implement them) a no-deal will happen on 31 October.

It should not be forgotten that we have already negotiated a deal with the EU, and it was voted down three times by Parliament due to the contentious Irish Backstop. There is frequent talk of trying to negotiate a better deal with the EU that would remove the backstop, but these that present this as an option are hopeful at best and deceptive at worst. The EU will categorically not renegotiate the Irish Backstop without the UK dropping its red lines over customs alignment, because otherwise it would blow a hole in the single market.

The Irish Backstop exists to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, as agreed in the Good Friday Agreement. Should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal, a hard border would have to be reintroduced and that would significantly damage British political clout and respect on the global stage. It would also very likely shut off any chance of a deal with the US.

Is democracy at stake?

As written above, prorogation in itself is not a democratic problem. It is a normal part of a Parliament’s lifecycle, and simply delineates the end of one parliamentary session and the start of the next.

However, it is my personal opinion, and one shared by many, that the decision to prorogue now is merely a cynical attempt to sidestep Parliament and prevent any action on the part of MPs that could interfere with a no-deal Brexit.

Parliament serves an important function in democracy as providing legislative oversight and scrutiny of the executive, making sure that laws are passed that are (believed to be) in the interest of the nation. Without parliamentary oversight, and with the aforementioned limited powers of the monarch, we would have power centralised with the prime minister, who could do whatever they wanted.

Our flexible constitution means that power can shift between the executive (the Government) and the legislative (Parliament), in part depending on the size of the majority that the prime minister holds.
After the disastrous 2017 election, there is no overall majority in the Commons, and the Conservative Government is propped up by a confidence and supply agreement with the DUP – who have proven to be a fickle ally. Between that, and party divisions over what should happen with Brexit, Johnson definitely does not have the support to allow the country to crash out without a deal, so it certainly appears as though he is attempting to close Parliament as a political convenience to make sure it happens.

That is a total affront to the principles of democracy, and is something that everyone, regardless of political allegiances, should be angry and worried about.