Sure, life under the Conservatives is awful and we want to see the back of it, but tactical voting is not the way to do it.
Tactical voting says ‘you can never win here so there’s no point trying’. It is self-perpetuating: our vote stays low, so sympathisers go for the next best thing, so the vote stays low, and the cycle continues. We are locked in perpetual third place.
Tactical voting very occasionally gets rid of one or two Conservatives, but you get almost-Tories in their place. Lib Dems often vote with the Tories (for example, over cuts) or vacillate in the middle ground. They don’t offer radical alternatives, just emollient and untheorised ones. They cannot transform the system.
Tactical voting depends on a primitive view of the parties being on a political spectrum which moves from good (us) to bad (them) with Lib Dems occupying a middling shade of nice grey. It is a metaphor that favours the indecisive middle, and it does not do justice to our own coherent and unique beliefs.
We are not a soft shade of Conservativism, nor a brighter hue of Liberalism: we are Socialists. We favour shared ownership, collective accountability, inclusive and active democracy, equal rights and economic parity. We offer a distinct programme, and our task is to persuade people to vote for it, not just gravitate towards it.
And, of course, there is something else that is not entirely obvious in the Guildford bubble: the Lib Dems are in no position to form a government that will make their dreams come true. They are too small a party, and their reputation has been marred by unkept promises during the coalition. They can’t deliver their promises, but we can. Our national party is big enough to look forward to national government, and is pledged to shed down large budgets away from Westminster to local authorities, empowering local services to be run by and for local people.
If our own supporters intend to vote tactically, it means that we have not persuaded them that our programme is worth believing in and worth fighting for. Right now, there is more interest in conviction politics than there has been for many years: we can work with that. We must campaign on first principles, not personalities. Nor should we waste time on tiny promises to enchant the electorate; we should offer them a better future altogether.
We all joined at some point because we were persuaded of the rightness of the policies and that’s what we have to do for tactical voters who construe politics as electoral gaming. We must challenge people to vote for something they can believe in.