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I truly hate tactical voting — but it can maximise Conservative losses this election

As we approach the home stretch in this election, the widely expected narrowing of the polls is yet to materialise. So steep is the self-imposed electoral mountain for the Conservatives and so ham-fisted the attempted ascent, that it seems to be all over but the crying. Starmer is probably taking his last meter reading before the big move to Downing Street and Sunak is probably already on the rota to coach little league in Santa Monica. It’s reasonable then, to ask if there’s any point to tactical voting in this general election. 

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

First, because the incoming government will inherit the must-discussed mother of all skip-fires: what Sue Gray has reportedly designated ‘the shit list’. After 14 years of epic mismanagement, the next government will need more than five years just to repair the damage, never mind other improvements and reforms. Tactical voting can ensure the Conservatives return the smallest number of MPs, reducing their chance of snatching power again in five years’ time, and can prevent Nigel Farage gaining a foothold in parliament where he will seek to cannibalise the Tories.

And second is because Labour’s lead is already built on tactical voting. Best for Britain’s most recent massive poll shows that one in five who say they intend to vote Labour, also confirmed they are only doing so tactically. For the Lib Dems, it’s one in three. Telling these people they needn’t bother will eat into this lead, saving Tories in scores of seats including some likely post-Sunak leadership hopefuls.

This poll also showed beyond any doubt that we are now a nation of tactical voters. In all but 11 constituencies across Britain, at least a third of people say they would vote tactically to change the government. In 234 seats this jumps to 40%, and in 31 seats, more than half are ready to vote for someone other than their first preference. Even in the prime minister’s own seat of Richmond and Northallerton, where he now holds a slim 7% lead, 4 in 10 are ready to vote tactically to get rid of him and his government.

But despite this obvious desire for change, and even with millions saying they are already voting tactically for specific parties, there is no guarantee these people are backing the right horse in their area. A report by the Political Studies Association suggests that only a third of voters know who came second in their seat, while last year, research by DeltaPoll found these numbers are even lower. Tactical voting only works if voters know who the closest challenger is and that’s where sites like GetVoting.org come in.

Last week GetVoting.org published tactical recommendations for 451 of the 632 constituencies in Britain that will be fought at this election. These recommendations were made using a combination of the most up-to-date MRP polling, constituency-level insights and expert analysis. We don’t claim to be omniscient or clairvoyant, these recommendations are made with the best data available to us before postal votes dropped through letterboxes. We always recommend people check out other tactical voting websites, apply their own knowledge and where possible, we’ve recommended they vote with their heart and that’s because, perhaps paradoxically, I truly hate voting tactically.

We shouldn’t have to do it. We should all be at ease to vote for the party we really want to, safe in the knowledge that a Conservative candidate can’t sneak through the middle of a split progressive vote.  It cannot be right that an MP can be elected or a government secure near total power when 60-70% of the electorate vote against them. But until the electoral system is changed, (something Best for Britain will once more pursue after polling day) tactical voting will continue to be a feature of Westminster elections and while campaigns like ours can make a difference in marginal constituencies; we are not an opposition party.

Our recommendations can help but really it is the parties themselves, more than anything else, that determines who wins in each seat. Activists need to think of us as roadside assistance, not people who build or drive the car. To stretch the metaphor, we’ll all be getting Britain second-hand from a careless previous owner. The motor is making a weird rattling noise and the lights on the dashboard are all flashing. Tactical voting can get us to the service station. It’s up to the next government to make Britain roadworthy again.

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