Could tactical voting stop Brexit?

With Labour facing meltdown, Tony Blair has urged voters to back alternative parties in a bid to derail a hard Brexit.


Blair claims EU membership is a bigger issue than party allegiance
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

With Labour facing meltdown, Tony Blair has urged voters to back alternative parties, including the Tories, in the general election if it means putting more anti-Brexit MPs in the House of Commons, reports the Financial Times. Indeed, he suggested that the issue of Brexit was "bigger than party allegiance". This call has already met with criticism, with Corbyn's office calling it "not helpful" and the moderate MP Chuka Umunna stating that "Tony Blair is wrong to suggest in any way that voters should look elsewhere".

"If you were to try to imagine an intervention that would elicit the most contempt and indignation from the people who are going to decide Labour's next leader, I don't think you could do much better," says Sam Glover in The Guardian. Indeed, Blair is "deluded" if he really thinks that "making sure people know that voting Conservative is always an option will somehow help the centre-left". It also overlooks the fact that "the party is already in crisis among Leave voters polling in February suggested that only 45% of Leave voters who voted Labour in 2015 still back the party".

"Brexit is a hugely complex issue for every political party, and for Labour it is more complicated still," says The Times. So it is no surprise that Blair, who is "normally so fluent", has "tied himself in knots". The problem is that "in southern metropolitan centres, most Labour voters are passionate Remainers", while "in smaller towns, in the north and in Wales, they are mainly ardent Brexiteers". Its task is also made more difficult by the fact that "the government's position on Brexit is deliberately opaque, meaning that a competent opposition would find itself trying to hammer nails into mist".

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Blair's not the only one suggesting tactical voting. Open Britain, a pro-EU campaign group, has produced a list of 20 seats held by supporters of a hard Brexit (19 Conservatives and one Labour MP, Kate Hoey) in areas that either split evenly in the referendum or backed a Remain vote.

However, they are wrong to believe that tactical voting will "save Britain from the hardest of exits from the European Union", argues Rafael Behr in the New Statesman. After all, "if you're a voter in Chipping Barnet who backed a Remain vote because you were worried about your house price, is Jeremy Corbyn really the answer to your problems"? Similarly, many people in seats such as Vauxhall, held by the pro-Brexit Kate Hoey, "believe their own interests are better served by sending a Labour MP to Westminster rather than refighting the referendum".

But this isn't simply about Brexit, says Polly Toynbee in The Guardian. It's a matter of survival. Polls suggest Labour could fall below 100 seats or become "the party of Merseyside and London". An unbridgeable chasm has opened up between Labour's traditional working-class supporters and Labour's leaders. Many people in the north now think Labour "is the party of posh metropolitans who defend only immigrants and people on benefits". In the "blue tsunami" to come, "every Labour seat needs saving in any way possible". Tactical voting and progressive alliances "can save a few".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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