May 17, 2005

THE POLITICS OF ME (via Judd Heartsill):

Britain’s tactical voting revolution: A mad electoral system rewards Tony Blair, but British citizens are making it work for themselves (Dominic Hilton, 11 - 5 - 2005, Open Democracy)

Vote-OK, a pro-hunting group affiliated with the Countryside Alliance, is coordinated from the attic of a cattle-shed in Gloucestershire, western England. It claims the scalps of some twenty-nine anti-hunting MPs – sorry, former MPs – and boasts of leaving twenty-one others with miniscule and barely defendable majorities. Charles Mann, former officer with the 14th/20th King’s Hussars and co-chief of the project with his wife Chipps, praises a “campaign on a substantial and hitherto unseen level in modern politics.” This conservative group is bandying around old-left phrases and talking of being “organised and committed”.

Chipps Mann talked to me about her and her husband’s surprise at how political they’d become. Vote-OK, she said, had helped people realise that politics is “not hallowed ground – we can do this too! We’ve suddenly woken up to the fact that anything is possible!” Hunting, she said, was not the issue at the election, but the issue that motivated people to get more widely involved in traditional politics.

Vote-OK targeted anti-hunting candidates in key marginal constituencies, delivering 3.4 million leaflets, 2.1 million hand-addressed envelopes, erecting 55,000 posters and, apparently, devoting some 170,000 campaigning hours to the cause. This was the old-school democracy of “leg men” (I was one of them). An issue, a livelihood, a lifestyle, a cause, became a democratic movement instead of a protest rally. Hunting itself was hardly mentioned. Newbury, Putney, The Wrekin, Hammersmith & Fulham, Peterborough, Enfield Southgate, Sittingbourne and Sheppey – turned over, all.

Meanwhile, as far north as Perth, Scotland, Keith Mothersson, a Buddhist and part-time gardener, mobilised “lovers of peace” across Britain to oust “warmongering” MPs who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Strategic Voter, Keith’s brainchild, encourages just that: strategic voting. It is superbly sophisticated, amazingly so given that Keith is a die-hard peacenik who talks of things like “men’s anti-sexism” and explains his operation thus: “I feel overwhelmed by a sense of how we all depend on Society and Mother Nature, so I hope to use whatever opportunity arises (not exactly voting) to express this gratitude and contribute as best I can – however inadequately – to defending and expressing our ‘Motherland’ of peaceful civilian life worldwide.”

Strategic Voter thinks Tony Blair’s New Labour is a Noble Lying neocon war-machine guilty of “institutionalised racism” and “Islamophobia”. Nevertheless, Strategic Voter encouraged some voters to vote for Conservative candidates – despite the fact that he believes Tories to be often “racist or classist or sexist or homophobic”, and even though the Conservative Party too backed the Iraq war.

It’s complicated. But all these groups do a phenomenal job of cutting through the logic of Britain’s electoral system. In a neat four-page leaflet – 10,000 of which were produced, many of which were handed out with the newspaper produced by homeless people, the Big Issue – London Strategic Voter lists how each London MP voted on the Iraq war, presents a breakdown of margins and percentages, and offers voting recommendations for each constituency under four categories; “principled”, “expressive”, “tactical” and “strategic”. A lot of their targets fell.

Then there’s Jason Buckley, who founded in 2001. His big idea is anti-Tory “vote-swapping”. Voters come to his website and “swap” their votes with people in other constituencies – “I’ll cast your vote for the Liberal Democrats in my constituency, where the Lib Dems have a chance, if you cast my Labour vote in your constituency, where Labour can win.”

Tacticalvoter is a place where Stephen Roberts, a Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for New Forest East, who did everything he could to assist the campaign of his Liberal Democrat rival, is heralded for his “heroic inactivity”. Buckley’s literature was distributed in about sixty seats, and he reckons at least three seats may have swung thanks to his efforts – Lonsdale, Taunton and Broxtowe, where the winning candidate dedicated his victory to

“It’s been a bizarre election,” Buckley told me. “There’s been so much tactical voting. But it is so difficult to disentangle how much impact we had.”

Hopefully not much. Even for peoples as atomized as the Europeans it would be catastrophic if folks devolved into single issue voters.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 17, 2005 4:15 PM

Right you are, and the EU oligarchs agree. The EU Constitution is designed to preclude just such chaos by ending politics and substituting population administration. Super Max, with a smile.

Posted by: Luciferous at May 17, 2005 4:24 PM

This is a positive trend. In order for voters to get control over the elite, they first have to develop the cooperative institutions that let them influence elections.

As for one-issue voting, they aren't. The hunting opponents just told you that hunting hardly figured as an issue for them.

Posted by: pj at May 17, 2005 5:06 PM

Sometimes the "one issue" is important enough.

I agree that sometimes (or often) people obsess over relatively small issues, but some positions just cannot be supported, regardless of how otherwise attractive is the politician holding them.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 17, 2005 5:45 PM

The '' project only works if it's a small thing only known to a select few. Once it grows too big and well known it's ripe for sabotage.

Posted by: b at May 17, 2005 6:24 PM

Like the types?

Posted by: Genecis at May 17, 2005 6:36 PM