Like many people I’ve struggled to decide who to vote for in the European Parliament elections tomorrow. I think I’ve made my mind up now.
The dilemma for me and for many Remainers is deciding what we want to achieve in these elections. Do we want to reduce the number of MEPs from Nigel Farage’s loathsome and sinister Brexit Party? To achieve a higher vote share for Remain parties? Or to elect the greatest number of pro-Remain MEPs? These three things are not the same.
Stopping MEPs from being elected from Farage’s party is an important consideration. There are many deeply unpleasant people involved in it, it’s sources of funding are troubling to say the least, and Farage himself has played a key role in getting us to the terrible situation we now find ourselves in as a country – for which he seems unable to accept any responsibility. If you want to do that, as a Remainer, the best thing to do is to hold your nose and vote Labour. Despite a few polls to the contrary, it seems obvious that Labour is going to finish second and is best-placed to hold Farage at bay. The price of supporting Labour, of course, is to have your vote interpreted as being cast for a pro-Leave party. That was the lesson of the 2017 General Election and the local elections a few weeks ago.
But that is a price I’m not prepared to pay.
If you want to increase the vote share of pro-Remain parties, well, you have the luxury of picking and choosing. At some point on Monday morning, someone will add together all the votes for the Lib Dems, Change UK, the Greens and so on, and compare them with the votes for Leave-supporting parties. Just pick whichever one you want, and the job’s done.
For me, however, this approach seems misguided and a touch cynical. Fundamentally, elections have to be about electing politicians to represent us, and we break that link at our peril. No, I believe that we should use these elections to return the greatest number of unequivocally pro-Remain MEPs.
Unfortunately, that still leaves me with a dilemma. Though the D’Hondt system used for these elections produces a broadly-proportional result, it’s difficult to game, and when it comes down to the final places on the list, it can produce results that are hard to predict. You can vote for smaller parties – and the split in the Remain vote means they’re all smaller parties – and still expect to get MEPs elected. But it’s still possible to vote for a party that performs so poorly that it can never hope to get anyone elected, and see the final place go to your opponents because the others don’t quite have enough support.
For me the choice comes down to the Lib Dems or Change UK. Sorry Greens – this is confusing enough without you guys.
The Lib Dems have been pressing their case hard. I voted for them in the local elections a few weeks ago, which was easy because they were the only Remainers standing. This time the choice is more difficult. There seems to be an assumption among them that taking on the mantle of the largest Remain party means they don’t have to address the coalition years and that we’re going to forgive and forget.
I find that difficult to do. I’m not going to go through all the coalition years but I do think they have issues to address. And I don’t think they should be able to take my Remain vote for granted.
Which leaves Change UK. I really, really want Change to do well. I find myself tribally still very much Labour, and I look forward to the day when can vote Labour again. One of the duties of smaller parties in the centre ground of our system is to keep the big parties honest, and prevent them from being captured by their extremes. If they become too extreme their support bleeds away to the centrist parties, and they are forced to tack back towards the centre to recapture it. The Lib Dems have notably failed to exert that kind of gravitational pull over the others. Neither party is paying the attention to the centre ground that they ought to. Change UK ought to have been able to apply that kind of pressure. For that reason I really want them to succeed.
But if you want my vote, as a new and untested party, you’re going to have to work for it. And some of their campaigning has been woeful. They’ve lost their lead candidate in Scotland overboard to the Lib Dems. They’ve contrived to lose control of their own Twitter handle by changing their name in the middle of the campaign. They’ve got some great candidates, but they’ve struggled to deploy them effectively.
All of this has made it difficult for them to break through. Their support remains at dangerously low levels. They may find themselves at that point where they just deny the last seat in my region to another pro-Remain party.
And so, with a heavier heart this time, I’m voting Lib Dems.