In case you didn't know, there's an election coming up in the UK. And despite Tony Blair's best efforts - two official whitewashes and a non-apology in the House - the British public are refusing to "draw a line" under the Iraq war. Some are still so incensed that they have established a website, Backing Blair, urging people to do what they can under the UK's archaic simple plurality (first-past-the-post) electoral system to vote him out of office:
On election day, we want you to vote strategically. Ruthlessly. In 'safe' Labour seats and marginal seats we want you to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour candidate.
Except this isn't strategic voting - it's mindless voting. Surely if you are trying to register a protest vote against the war in Iraq, a candidate's views on that war should be a consideration? Nick Barlow makes this point perfectly, using the example of a Labour MP who has consistently opposed both the war and the Blair government's overreaction to it:
And you think voting him out of the House of Commons will send a message to Tony Blair? I don’t know who his Tory opponent is, or what he or she may believe in, but what if you’re voting for someone like IDS who, in Matt’s words, would not only jump in a lake if asked to by George Bush, but would first drain it and then jump in head-first just to show much more committed he was than Blair?
Like Nick, I think the strategy expressed by John Harris in so now who do we vote for? (excerpt here)is far more effective: vote Labour where the candidate opposed the war or where the Conservatives have a serious chance of getting in - and not-Labour (and preferably one of the anti-war parties) everywhere else. The British Labour party needs to be punished for betraying its roots and supporting the unsupportable, and the best short-term strategy is to vote for the alternatives. The best long-term strategy, of course, is real electoral reform towards a proportional system - but that's not seriously on the UK radar at the moment.
A similar argument can be made about our own Labour government, of course. While their record on social, economic, and labour-market policy is good, on immigration and law and order (and human rights in general), it leaves much to be desired. But the answer to this is not to throw Labour out of office - the "alternative" is worse in every case - but to ensure that they pursue policies more in line with our preferences. Fortunately, MMP gives us a much easier time of this.
After the next election, Labour will almost certainly need the assistance of other parties to form a government. We must leave them in no doubt about our preference for forming a coalition on the left rather than in the centre (unless of course there is no other option). But more importantly, we must ensure that their left-wing partners have sufficient clout in internal negotiations to drag policy in the right direction. And the way to do this is to vote for the coalition partner rather than Labour. Both the Greens and Progressives have committed to backing Labour to form a government, so voting for them does not damage the left. But it will help shift the policy balance, both through internal coalition consultation and by making it clear to Labour that trying to outflank National on the right will be punished.
The electorate vote is another matter entirely. It's vitally important for small parties of course, but for the larger ones it is simply a way of selectively reordering the list. This leaves us free to express our displeasure for errant Labour MPs (such as Phil Goff for his hostile attitude towards human rights, David Benson-Pope for his outburst over Zaoui, or the traitors who voted against the Civil Union Bill) by voting for other candidates, assuming better alternatives can be found. It also leaves us free to vote for the most liberal credible candidate, so as to improve our chances on conscience votes. Neither of these will affect the overall outcome (that is ultimately decided by the party vote), but they may result in a Parliament which is more in line with our preferences.