Don’t Vote Tactically

Say you lived in a society with a First Past the Post voting system. Say at the last election the Evil Party won with 11 million votes. Second came the Slightly Less Evil Party with 10 million votes. After them came a variety of Not At All Evil parties with 9 million votes.

 

How should you vote this time?

 

If you vote tactically, as millions of your fellow citizens did last time and do in every election, you should vote Slightly Less Evil. After all, if the only possible results are Evil or Slightly Less Evil choose the lesser.

 

But it is this tactical calculation that both Evil parties rely upon. If nobody voted tactically at all, and instead voted for the best of the Not At All Evil parties on offer, one of them would win. Maybe not this time, but at some point in the future.

 

The problem with tactical voting in situations like this is that we can all get locked into a choice between Evil and Slightly Less Evil. Even if we think that we should determine our vote by some kind of utilitarian calculus, supporting one form of Evil where it is less bad than the alternative (I do not), longterm tactical voting is counterproductive. Longterm the best tactic is not to vote tactically this time. Elections are not one offs, and tactical voting may leave us trapped between two awful options forever.

 

Vote Not At All Evil.

 

[Any relation of this post to any real world choice in the 2019 UK General Election is purely coincidental.]

How to Remain

If, like me, you wish the UK to remain a Member of the European Union how could it be done? How could Brexit be ended, with a good outcome?

 

At some level Brexit can never be defeated. There will always be some, such as Mr Nigel Farage, who will passionately favour and argue for Brexit come what may.  If however there is a majority of the country that would prefer Remain over any of the other available options, how can this be achieved in a way that is perceived as fair by those who voted for, or still support, Brexit?

 

The most powerful argument that still persists for Brexit is that the 2016 referendum should be respected, and so should be carried out, regardless of the merits of the case. The major flaw with this argument, which was not apparent to me at the time of the 2016 referendum, is that when Remain is contrasted with any specific form of Brexit (from a Farage style no deal, through Johnson’s hard leave, May’s customs union, to staying within both the customs union and the single market) its majority evaporates. Remain beats any real world Brexit. Only when Brexit’s varieties are aggregated does it beat the concrete option of Remain. This is because as the “democratic sovereignty” of the UK is increased by its disentaglement from international entanglements, so the economic cost increases. This is one reason why those who voted Remain feel there is no democratic mandate for Johnson’s deal, and so are irreconcilable to it. There was no majority for any actual real world Brexit outcome.

 

So, in order to overcome the argument that the referendum must be respected, another countervailing democratic vote is required that shows that Remain is more popular than any specific form Brexit may take. This is the only way of reconciling those who can be reconciled to a remain result that they do not prefer.

 

This leaves two options.

 

First is the victory in a General Election of a party explicitly advocating remain. At the moment, this seems unlikely.

 

Second is another referendum.

 

The Labour party’s current policy is to renegotiate its own form of Brexit and put this to the test against Remain in a referendum.

 

This is not a plausible way of bringing Brexit to an end. Many of the Labour shadow cabinet explicitly favour remain of any other option. The shadow foreign secretary has stated that she would campaign for remain against any deal negotiated by her government. When compared to remain, a “soft brexit” option negotiated by a Labour government would only receive the support of the small majority of those who favour Brexit within the Labour party.  Remain would easily win any such referendum. It is a policy that enables the Labour party to be unified, but it is not one that will ever reconcile those who oppose it to a remain result. Brexit as the dominant political issue will continue, drowning out everything else.

 

In the end therefore, we will need a referendum either where a number of Brexit outcomes are put, or (less ideally) where a deal negotiated by a government that genuinely favours Brexit is pitted against Remain.

 

There is, of course, another way of ending Brexit, although not a good one. A large General Election victory by a party favouring a specific form of it.