A lot of people make the assumption that the UK EP elections are under a straight PR system. Unfortunately, the reality is that the D’Hondt system heavily favours larger parties and thus works against groups that split their votes amongst several parties. As such, tactical voting is depressingly necessary if Remainers are to make an impact.
To vote tactically you have to define your goals and also some sense of priority in that list of goals. Some possible ones are:
- Influence the media narrative about the strength of the Remain cause
- Show backing for a 2nd Referendum
- Reduce the UKIP/Brexit Party representation in Europe as far as possible
Each of these goals potentially leads in a different direction, especially when we consider that at the time of writing this, we have no idea what Labour’s manifesto for the EP elections will be.
If your priority is to reduce the UKIP/Brexit Party representation then @AngryNortherner on Twitter has a thread for you. My simple summary would be that if this is your goal then in many regions you will need to vote Labour.
It would of course be very pleasant to see the hardest anti-EU parties lose badly. For myself however, I don’t think this negative goal is the correct one, as we know that both the majority of the media and key figures in the Labour leadership will claim any votes for Labour as backing for “Labour’s Brexit.”
Boosting a 2nd Ref
The 2nd referendum situation hinges on what Labour decide to put in their manifesto. If they were to make a clear and unambiguous commitment to a referendum then this simplifies the tactical situation massively — as Labour is in a good position in most regions to benefit best from the D’Hondt system. If they make such a commitment I will return to the regional details. Until then however, we have to take their current positioning and suggest that showing backing for a 2nd Referendum tactically looks a lot like “Making the best showing of Remainers.”
If the responses to the General Election in 2017 from media and Labour Leadership teach us anything it is that there is no nuance in British political thinking. “If people really wanted to Remain, why didn’t they vote for the Lib Dems” & “80% of people voted for parties that want to Leave” went the refrain, on and on, impervious to polling that showed the preferences re: Europe of Labour voters in 2017, or the simple fact that in a FPTP system many people prioritised stopping Theresa May who had outlined a very hardline approach in her “citizens of nowhere” speech.
Thus, if Remainers want to use this election to make a statement about the UK being in the EU (and what better forum for that statement than elections to the European Parliament?) we need to grapple with the fact that the parties we can vote for are all starting from a lower base and thus the D’Hondt system will discriminate against them. From an angle of “percentage of the vote” this doesn’t matter — but you can rely on UK media commentators to follow any statement about this with “sure that was high, but they didn’t win many seats” unless we get our tactical game together.
Key concepts about the UK EP elections:
- Votes are counted and applied to seats using a regional list system, which means who you should vote for depends on where you are.
- In Northern Ireland they use STV, but all the other regions use D’Hondt and going by previous results D’Hondt in these circumstances generally means a party needs to get a minimum of at least around 9 or 10% of the vote to get a seat (but for example in the North East last time, the threshold was 18%).
- Because we hope for a decline (probably minor) in the UKIP/BrexitParty/Tory turnout and an increase (we hope a major one) in the turnout of Remainers all of the following ideas are open to discussion.
- There appears to be no existing official co-operation between pro-Remain parties and at the time of writing it does not appear there is time or will to create one, so it is down to us, as voters, to make some hard choices.
- As of writing the LibDems and the Greens are neck and neck in polling and this suggests that the LDs have not recovered from their losses in 2014, but equally have not fallen away further.
- Change UK (formerly The Independent Group) may get their paperwork together in time to run, but we do not yet know and we don’t know what their manifesto would be. There is an argument that they are a more likely home for Tory switchers than other Remain parties, but in the face of the current uncertainties and because the last thing we actually need is a 3rd Remain party to balance with, I’m going to ignore them. I will update if/when some of these uncertainties resolve.
- Likewise there are other pro-EU parties, e.g. Renew, but running from a zero base, it’s very hard to see how under D’Hondt they can make an impact, so brutal as it is, they simply do not get a look in here.
- Very few of the Remain candidates we know of so far have enough personal standing to swing a race. So in most cases party considerations rule. I will update if new candidates with real personal standing come into play.
- The LDs are not going away, but they haven’t show much spark either. As such, given the general level-pegging with the Greens, my aim is to try to roughly identify which region each has a better chance in and suggest voters coalesce around 1 party. I have only an outsider’s view on most regions, so if you know better, write up your own logic — the purpose of this exercise is to be a start, not an end of the discussion. At the time of writing there is almost no useful regional polling, so much of this is thinking based on the 2014 result, which I agree is problematic, but we have to start somewhere.
- It’s virtually impossible to forecast by just how much Remain and Leave turnouts will change, so I’m going to focus on “minimum viable wins” — the tactics that can make an impact on seats with only a relatively low bump in the Remain vote. We could do much better than that and I hope we do (get all your friends registered!) but this is a starting point.
- I assume many Labour voters, no matter their European convictions will simply vote Labour no matter what the party’s stance is. Relying on them to return some good pro-EU MEPs is a risk, as some of the best are lower on the list. But as discussed earlier, Labour votes will be portrayed as pro-Brexit, so if you’re thinking tactically, you have to think of other parties.
Region by Region Tactical Voting
NI is a very special case. Not only does it have a different set of main parties, it also has a different voting system. As an outsider I have no insight into the complexities of politics there, so I’ll restrict myself to a few factual observations: With only 3 seats it seems every seat is destined to go to a different party. Of the parties who won seats last time, Sinn Fein was the clear leader on first preferences and has a pro-EU stance. The DUP came 2nd and the UUP 3rd, both with pro-Brexit stances. A close 4th on first preferences was the SDLP who have a pro-EU stance, but they fell away on later counts. If you’re a voter willing to make pro-EU stance your key issue, it seems 1st and 2nd pref to the SDLP is the main chance to make a difference.
Scotland provides a great opportunity because the single UKIP seat is the most vulnerable seat. Purely by the numbers, the fewest number of votes strategy to push UKIP out of power is for more people to vote SNP, it probably would not take that many. Of course, in deference to local politics, you may not wish to vote for a party committed to Scottish Independence. In which case the picture gets quite difficult. The two parties in striking distance of that last seat are the Greens (who are also pro-independence) and the LibDems. The LDs will need quite a turnout bump to overtake UKIP on their own. One could advise pro-independence voters to go SNP and unionist ones to go LD and this could conceivable push out both UKIP and Conservative representation. But as Scotland is also a special case, I don’t know if this is realistic.
Wales looks like a place you should simply vote your preference. There are 4 seats and each held by a different party and the 5th & 6th placed parties last time (Green & LD) were both so far behind that even if their votes were added together they wouldn’t get a seat — and if they did, it’s most likely they’d take the Plaid Cymru seat, which given PC is a pro-EU party, doesn’t do anything for the pro-EU cause.
North East England
The North East region has 3 seats, and it was 2 Labour and 1 UKIP last time. UKIP candidate has since become an Independent, but still pro-Brexit. That seat is potentially vulnerable if their voters are less enthused this time and that isn’t unrealistic. However, this is a region where pro-EU voters have to make a difficult choice and pick out one of the Greens or LDs as the horse to back. Backing both will likely result in failure. At this stage there is very little local polling data, so we have to think about the results last time, NE is one of the areas where the LDs, despite massive decline, did not fall behind the Greens and from what I can see, their membership and infrastructure in the area is strong and so I’d recommend Remain voters in the NE region vote LibDem.
North West England
The two trailing seats in the NW are one UKIP and one Tory. Really (as one would expect in an area with more seats — 8) in this area it is possible to vote your preference more, so long as we get more voters out to the polling booth. There are 2 seats potentially up for grabs and both Green and LD are in striking distance for 1, but unlikely to reach the heights which would give them 2. So ideally we get more voters, roughly evenly split between Green and Lib Dem and take both seats.
Yorkshire and the Humber
One trailing seat, held by UKIP. Other seats are held very solidly and will only fall in a huge wave, at which point the tactics are out of the window anyway. For now, asmall uplift in overall Remain turnout, focussed on the Greens will take it. A tough call, but LDs took a huge hit in 2014 and are noticeably behind. Remain voters should vote Green.
The one clearly vulnerable seat here is held by the Tories but it will require a combined effort everyone backing one party. Of the two in contention, the Greens were a little ahead in 2014 and it seems they have a good infrastructure in the region. Tough call, but Remain voters should vote Green.
As in the East Midlands, there is only one clearly vulnerable seat here, this time held by UKIP. Again it will require heavy tactical voting, Remainers getting behind one party to pull it off. The roles are reversed here from 2014 though, the Lib Dems were ahead and their infrastructure seems in relatively good shape. Remain voters in the West Midlands should favour the Liberal Democrats.
East of England
One clearly vulnerable slot, held by the Conservatives. The Greens were 15,000 votes away from it in 2014, with the LibDems another 30k further back. Remain voters in the East of England region should vote Green.
South East England
Greens and LibDems both took a seat in this region in 2014 and both were a long way from taking another one. Tactical voting has nothing to add unless new polling arrives to show a real decline in one of the larger party votes. Remain voters in the South East should vote their preference.
South West England
The situation here is similar to in the South East, only the Greens have a seat and the LibDems fell just short last time. Without massive turnout changes it is hard to see how tactical voting can change the pro-EU balance here. Remain voters in the South West should vote their preference.
The most vulnerable seat here is held by Labour and probably belongs to Seb Dance, who has been a strong pro-EU campaigner. The Greens have a seat but are long way from taking a second. Lib Dems could take that vulnerable Labour spot on a big turnout. No big tactical wins here.
Remain voters in the London region should vote their preference.