Voters told to follow heads not hearts
Tactical voting is dismissed as undemocratic by the major political parties. Its backers say it is the current system that is at fault. Peter Ross asks whether voters need a lesson in strategy.
Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth will face a host of obstacles in his bid to retain the Stirling constituency at the next election. as it becomes the focus ofa new wave of single issue politics and organised tactical voting.
Mr Forsyth. who retained Stirling in I992 with a majority of just 236 votes, is being targeted by gay rights group Outright Scotland and anti-Tory campaigners GROT (Get Rid of Them). Both groups are urging Stirling constituents to vote Labour.
Forsyth has also come under ﬁre from hardline anti- abortionists. New political party The Prolife Alliance (PA) are ‘looking very closely‘ at ﬁelding a candidate against him.
The party. funded by Harrods owner Mohammed Al-Fayed and other ‘business interests’. accuses the Scottish Secretary of failing to express his pro-life views explicity.
All the groups are urging voters to ignore their traditional instincts and vote according to speciﬁc agendas. But is this democracy and. crucially. will it work?
GROT thinks so. Its members are urging the public to vote for the strongest rival to 79 Conservatives in marginal seats across the UK, including eight in Scotland. Were it successful, Labour would win four seats. with the SNP and Liberal Democrats taking two seats each.
‘Michael Forsyth will be very lucky to survive. A lot of people want rid of him,‘ said Keith Mothersson, Scottish coordinator of GROT. ‘ln l992, if 50,000 people had voted more skilfully in fourteen rnarginals. that would have swung the whole election.’
The importance of tactical voting and single issue groups was widely discussed at the last two elections. But the impact so far has been insigniﬁcant. Bruce Kent. former chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and current co-chair of GROT, blames ‘tribal loyalties‘ fostered by the political parties: He argues that voting against the party you actually
Cunningham: could beneiit trorn tactical voting
believe in is not undemocratic. ‘Tactical voting means your vote actually has some signiﬁcance. Voting for a candidate who cannot win is foolish and undemocratic.‘
However. not all tactical voting is aimed at removing the current Government. For others. single issues transcending political boundaries are the key factor.
The Prolife Alliance plans to stand in 50 UK constituencies. including ten in Scotland. Although unwilling to name its target constituencies. the party admits it will mostly be challenging Labour MPs.
It claims 22 out of 23 MPs on the Labour front bench are pro-choice. citing Gordon Brown. Margaret Beckett, Harriet Harman. Chris Smith and Claire Short as particular concerns. in the Cabinet. Kenneth Clarke, Virginia Bottomley. Michael Howard and Michael Heseltine have also been slammed by the group.
Single issue groups are often accused of a simplistic approach which ignores the fact that in a general election. people vote on major issues such as tax.
education and the health service.
PA insist theirs is a valid platform: ‘Abortion represents 15.000 Dunblane massacres each year. It is the big issue.‘ claims Michael Willis. Scottish spokesman for PA. ‘20—30 per cent of British people are looking for a channel to register their opposition to abonion,‘ he added.
Meanwhile. gay activists Outright Scotland - have produced a ‘hitlist‘ of seven Scottish Conservative MPs who voted against lowering the age of sexual consent for gay men and support the ban on gays in the armed forces.
The pressure group is calling on supporters to back the strongest challenger to sitting Conservative MPs. It is also backing Roseanna Cunningham. the Scottish Nationalist MP for Perth. a supporter of gay equality.
lan Dunn, converter of ()utright Scotland. is conﬁdent the campaign will change the Scottish political map: ‘The margins are so tiny in these constituencies that 200—300 homosexuals and bisexuals voting to unseat the Tory could make all the difference.‘ he said.
Politicians are reluctant to acknowledge openly the possibilities of tactical voting. Privately however. many MPs will admit that it makes a great deal of sense.
The Liberal Democrats, who could gain as many as ﬁfteen seats through strategic voting. have been publicly divided on the issue. Elder statesman Lord Rogers urged delegates at their last party conference to elect Labour MPs where they stood the best chance ofousting Conservatives. His proposals were immediately dismissed by Menzies Campbell. Lib Dem MP for North Fife.
()ther Scottish MPs also have their doubts. Roseanna Cunningham was grateful for the backing ofthe gay lobby. ‘I welcome the support of Outright Scotland. but people will vote for very individual reasons at the general election.‘ she said.
Conservative MP for Ayr Phil Gallie, is perhaps most at risk with a majority ofjust 85. the smallest in Scotland. He was dismissive however. ‘I am not at all concerned. to be perfectly honest.‘ he said. effectively arguing that what is lost on the swings is gained on the roundabouts. ‘Five per cent of my constituents may be gay or bisexual. but iften per cent were offended by their activities I could well beneﬁt.‘ he reasoned.
Michael Forsyth. on the other hand. was unwilling to comment on whether he felt his seat was threatened by pressure group activity.
And ﬁnally. . . The horror epidem
With the election loorning. MPs are deranged — and it‘s ofﬁcial. The enviany level-headed speaker of the Commons Betty Boothroyd has even coined a name for it — Pre-Election Tension (PET).
During a feverish Question Ti me, our beloved leaders spent most of it screaming abuse at each other. ‘Weak, weak. weak.‘ shrilled Tone at Johnno. ‘All you do is heckle and waft your arms about in a hopeless gesture,‘
Girls. Monty complained to The Mirror - ‘these men are supposed to be the Government. They were acting like playground louts.‘ ;»
One tnan who has. from time to time. '7 been described in equally unﬂattering terms is Alan Clark. Back from the political wasteland. Clark is now. according to the News Of The World. ‘Britain‘s Wittiest. Grittiest Columnist.‘
So. at what does he direct his finely honed intellect? The threat to the Tories from Jimmy Goldsmith? The
One decidedly unlikely event. however, is a Scots victory over the English. At anything. However. MPs from north of the border did the nation proud by cufﬁng their southern jessie counterparts 6-4 in a penalty contest at lbr'ox.
Most of the Scots players were members of the Parliamentary Beer Club. which was clearly the venue for much celebration and drowning of sorrows.
One MP who was clearly hungover when she woke up the other day was
ic afﬂicting our politicians
retorted the Big M.
Talking of hopeless. Tory MP Eric Forth (a Glaswegian who had to ﬂee to Worcestershire to ﬁnd a winnable seat) called 78-year-old school governor Monty Hughes a ‘thug‘ after the brave old codger stepped in to calm Forth down.
He had been engaged in heated heckling of Labour‘s David Blunkett outside Wirral Grammar School for
Monarchy? Er. no. It‘s the Spice Girls: Don‘t diet. he lectures them. for it will prove you are under the hammer of the fashion business. His thesis is simple — ‘no one in the ’industry‘ has ever. I would guess. performed a sex act. Not a normal one, anyway.‘ Who would argue with such an expert in his ﬁeld? If politicians need further warning that too much politicking can seriously rot your skull. behold the case ofcx-
lcke: a terminal case at new political iurgy?
Green Party guru David ‘Mad As A Pike‘ lcke. In his new book l/im Me I Am Free. lcke claims recent US presidents have been involved in various scams including slavery, drugs and the raping of children. Nothing is unlikely in America.
Labour‘s Kate Hoey. An intrepid investigative reporter from The Independent discovered she had mixed and matched her plirnsolls while hotfooting it around the Wirral South campaign.
Alarmed doctors warn pre-election tension could last anything up to three months. Whether the voters can stand much more of this dottiness remains to be seen. (Brian Donaldson)
The List 7-20 Feb 1997 5