I live in the Forest of Dean, a constituency that had a Conservative incumbent, and where Labour were the closest challenger in the 2010 election. But UKIP have been rising fast, and pro-UKIP signs are to be seen all over, intimidating the relatively few non-white people we have in the area. (Not speculation: direct accounts from people affected.)
How to vote, then?
By inclination, and by agreement with their underlying principles, I tend to prefer the Liberal Democrats over the other mainstream parties.
But I like the Greens’ idealism, and would like to shift the framing of the political debate by helping them to become a more significant force. If only a vote for the Greens was not a vote wasted.
But in this particular constituency, the more pragmatic LibDem vote is also a vote wasted: they simply can’t win the Forest of Dean.
Which means that if I want any kind of compassionate representative, I surely need to vote for the Labour candidate — right?
Except that, living as I do in a constituency sadly attracted to the fear-driven rhetoric of UKIP and keen to blame all the local problems on outsiders, there’s a very real chance that the UKIP candidate will get it. So perhaps I need to vote for the Conservative candidate, who has the best chance of keeping him out?
This is not an amusing thought-experiment. This is the genuine choice that I had to make on polling day. There were real reasons for me to vote LibDem, Green, Labour or even Conservative. The truth is that even as Fiona and I approached the polling station, we’d not fully made up our minds; we had to consult just before entering to make sure were both voting the same way and wouldn’t cancel each other out.
And this is stupid.
When I go to vote, I should simply vote for the candidate I want to win. Instead, I had to tie myself in knots with what-ifs and yes-buts. That’s tactical voting for you — a waste of mental and emotional energy that in most cases results in my lying on my voting slip. I want to tell the truth when I vote, and I want everyone else to, as well.
That’s why I was so supportive of the AV system, and why I was so distraught when the referendum in 2011 rejected it. That referendum is the reason we’re stuck with the present stupid first-past-the-post system, and why in the end I did lie on my voting slip about who I wanted to win.
Our system is horrible.
[Read on to Election results #1: why did the Conservatives win?]