An 'Uxbridge' too far for Tactical Voting


An 'Uxbridge' too far for Tactical Voting

Jul 21, 2023

Cal Roscow

Good morning, and if you are just waking up to the results of last night’s three by-elections, we can bring you happy news that Labour have won in Selby & Ainsty, and the Lib Dems have taken Somerton & Frome. After what felt like an exceptionally long campaign, Labour and the Lib Dems have overturned huge majorities, and made sizeable ones of their own; 4,161 and 11,008 respectively.

The miniscule size of the Labour result in Somerton & Frome (2.6% down ten percentage points on last the election), corresponding with a tiny proportion of Lib Dem votes in Selby & Ainsty (3.3%, down five percentage points) shows that tactical voting may well have played its part. A huge well done to voters in both constituencies for recognising what needs to be done, and to both political parties for targeting resources where they had a chance of winning.

But, the picture is far less rosy in Uxbridge & South Ruislip, where the Conservatives held the seat by 495 votes. The Lib Dem and Green vote combined was 1,416.

This was not the night that the parties, or indeed commentators, expected. Uxbridge & South Ruislip was expected to be taken by Danny Beales, a Labour councillor with a local connection. If any seat was going to be held by the Tories it was supposed to be Selby & Ainsty. And this just goes to show that nothing can be taken for granted in elections under the First Past The Post system.

The complacency that has crept in over the last few months, caused by repeated Westminster polls showing large Labour leads, could cost progressives the next general election - and win Sunak a second term.

Last night was a warning. 

A warning that tactical voting can only hope to achieve so much - it’s not a silver bullet. In a by-election it is far easier to focus resources. At a general election, with over two hundred times the number of seats to contend, the only guarantee of beating this government is a non-aggression agreement or deliberate stand-downs so that only one challenger runs. Nothing else will do.

Let us make sure that this is the last warning. It certainly hasn’t been the first.

Nigel Farage and the political party he owns, Reform UK (he’s listed as a company director on Companies House), are no strangers to standing down their candidates where the Conservatives are at risk. They did it in 2019 and yesterday there was no Reform UK candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Whether Farage’s Reform UK stood down to help the Tories this time, or to help actor-turned-anti-vaxxer Lawrence Fox’s Reclaim Party, the outcome was the same -  in a close election, the right-leaning vote was less split than the progressive vote.

But, the combined votes cast for Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green candidates still outmatch the combined votes for the Conservatives and Reclaim by 210 votes.

Take Reclaim out of that equation and the combined opposition parties beat the Conservatives by 924.

Comparing the results for key national parties at the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election held on 20th July 2023.

Added to that, it is now clearer than ever that the Conservative will say whatever they need to to win.

The Uxbridge & South Ruislip contest became a proxy referendum on the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Positioned by the Tory HQ as a Labour mayor waging war upon less-well-off motorists in a cost-of-living crisis, despite its introduction by Boris Johnson as mayor, and expansion mandated by Grant Shapps as Transport Minister in 2020.

Source: Dept for Transport

This government will blame others for their failures. Or worse, their successes if they become electorally unpopular.

This morning Angela Rayner, referring to the result and the debate on ULEZ, said that “When you don’t listen to voters, you don’t win elections”.

For quite some time now voters have been saying that they feel their vote doesn’t count, and that the electoral system needs reform.

Source: YouGov

And in rather fortuitous timing, Labour's national policy forum meets this weekend to discuss policy ideas for their next manifesto. Last night’s result may well reignite the Proportional Representation debate inside the party. So will the party be listening to voters and put electoral reform high up on the agenda?

Let's hope so.

Best for Britain is a campaigning organisation calling for reform to our voting system, for like-minded parties to work together at elections, and runs tactical voting campaigns where parties fail to reach agreement. It is completely funded by donations and grants. You can read more about Best for Britain’s work and who they are.