Friday, April 01, 2005

Quit Labour

Tariq Ali says that he will "vote Liberal Democrat" to punish the warmongers ("For One Day Only, I'm a Lib Dem," The Guardian 26 Mar. 2005 -- cf. "Punish the Warmongers: Vote Lib Dem," Red Pepper April 2005), delighting Lynne Featherstone. More precisely, Ali recommends that "[i]n constituencies where there are MPs belonging to the anti-war faction, one should vote for them despite disagreements on many other issues. In the warmonger constituencies we should vote tactically" (Ali, 26 Mar. 2005). Brian Eno has a pithier argument than Ali: change the Opposition (Lib Dem This Time).

According to The Economist's analysis, changing the Opposition does appear to be within the reach of anti-war voters:
Following the invasion of Iraq two years ago, Labour's support has fallen substantially. During almost the whole of its first five years in office, Labour's monthly average in the opinion polls remained stubbornly above 45%. Last year, its average poll rating never exceeded 39%.

But there is little sign of disaffected Labour voters switching to the Tories, whose position in the polls has been anchored in the low 30s or worse for over a decade. By contrast, in the past six months, the Lib Dems have averaged just below 22%, seven points higher than before the 2001 election. It looks as if the anti-war stance taken by Mr [Charles] Kennedy has paid off handsomely. ("Liberal Democrats: Charles Kennedy's Smart Act," 31 Mar. 2005)
Tactical voting, however, is an idea that led to an absolute disaster in the US presidential election last year.
  • John Kerry lost by a far larger margin in 2004 than Al Gore did in 2000.

  • Ralph Nader got on fewer ballots and received fewer votes in 2004 than in 2000.

  • The Green Party, nominating David Cobb, got its presidential candidate on fewer ballots in 2004 than in 2000, received only 119,862 votes (falling behind not only Nader but also the Libertarian Party [397,234 votes] and even the Constitution Party [143,609 votes]! -- see "Green Party Election Results"), and lost ballot status in eight states (it had ballot status in 22 states and the District of Columbia before the 2004 elections -- it now has ballot status in only 14 states and D.C. (see "2006 Petitioning for Statewide Office," Ballot Access News 20.8 December 12, 2004).
That's a Lose-Lose-Lose fiasco, as everyone can see. Why didn't tactical voting work?

It turns out that tactical voting wasn't a big motivator for the electorate, even in the most important battleground states:

For Your Candidate (69%) 59% 40%
Against His Opponent (25%) 30% 70%

Source: CNN, "Election Results: U.S. President/National/Exit Poll,"


For Your Candidate (71%) 59% 40%
Against His Opponent (25%) 31% 68%

Source: CNN, "Election Results: U.S. President/Ohio,"


For Your Candidate (69%) 60% 39%
Against His Opponent (27%) 30% 69%

Source: CNN, "Election Results: U.S. President/Florida,"
Most Americans either vote for the party and candidates they actually believe in, or else they sit out elections altogether rather than vote tactically. Are the British any different? Elections, after all, are a form of politics, and politics that doesn't engage passion doesn't engage masses. True, we are talking about UK parliamentary elections in which the idea of tactical voting makes more sense than in US presidential elections, and the "Lib Dems This Time" in Britain certainly got far more things going for them -- most importantly, Liberal Democrats, unlike Kerry, did vote against the Iraq War and say they are committed to "a plan for the phased withdrawal of UK troops by the end of the year" -- than the execrable Anybody But Bush in America (to which Ali made his tiny but still unwelcome contribution [WBAI, 28 Oct. 2004), but will their pitch for tactical voting prove exciting enough to engage the disengaged and move them to ballot boxes?

A fundamental problem of tactical voting as it is practiced, which is at the root of its inability to excite political passion, is that it relegates tactics to individual choice, rather than make it a matter of collective organizing, thus depoliticizing elections further. After all, politics is a social action, not an individual calculation. "[W]hy not treat this election as special and take the politics of the broad anti-war front to the electoral arena? If the result is a hung parliament or a tiny Blair majority, it will be seen as a victory for our side," argues Ali (26 Mar. 2005). However, unless an electoral pact is actually formed by anti-war Labour MPs, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, Respect, the Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party, and Plaid Cymru -- which would be a real political undertaking -- "the broad anti-war front" in the electoral arena exists only in the imagination of each voter who follows the advice of Ali and others who think like him.

In reality, what has prevented formation of a broad anti-war front in UK electoral politics isn't people voting "to assert their political sympathies" (Ali, 26 Mar. 2005) but commitment of anti-war Labour MPs to the Labour Party rather than to the anti-war movement.

UK anti-war activists have to ask, of the "total of 139 Labour MPs [who] voted against the war" (Ali, 26 Mar. 2005), how many of them are still anti-war, i.e., committed to bringing UK troops home and ending the occupation of Iraq now or at the very least setting down a clear exit timetable. The Independent reports that "17 rebel MPs have signed a declaration saying: 'I was and remain totally opposed to the war on Iraq. If elected as your parliamentary representative in the forthcoming general election, I will do everything in my power to bring the occupation of Iraq to an end'" (Andrew Grice and Colin Brown, "Labour MPs to Fight on Anti-war Ticket," 30 Mar. 2005). Only 17? And why are those 17 "rebel MPs" still stuck in the Labour Party?

Kate Soper wrote shortly after the invasion of Iraq began: "any Labour MP who intends to canvass anti-war votes in 2005/6 should resign the Labour whip now and seek backing to stand as an Independent Labour candidate next time round" (Kate Soper, "War and Democracy," Radical Philosophy 120, July/August 2003). Can anti-war activists in England get organized, so that they can issue an ultimatum to anti-war Labour MPs: quit the Labour Party and join "the broad anti-war front" or else forget about anti-war votes?

1 comment:

Comandante Gringo said...

Liberal Left types always bother me -- especially when they wear a "marxoid" mantle, since one doesn't want to simply throw the baby out with the bathwater and outright dismiss everything they have to say. They're often intelligent, thoughtful people after all. But at some point, thankfully, they finally step over that line, and make writing them off a lot easier on the mind.

Tariq Ali crossed that line for me when he fell in with the "Anybody But Bush" stampede.

So now, while I will always carefully follow his analyses, I will never again take him seriously as a "marxist". -- and I will loudly warn others to not consider him the genuine article either -- as Tariq Ali is clearly no revolutionary.