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General Election 2024: ‘Forget Tactical Voting we’re Calling for People to Push Back Against our Rotten System and Fight FPTP’

This election Compass is only backing candidates who recognise the “farce” of FPTP and will push to remove it in the next parliament

Voters visit a polling station based at South Ruislip. Photo: Stephen Chung / Alamy
Voters visit a polling station based at South Ruislip. Photo: Stephen Chung / Alamy

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Tactics – they help you win games. They can make the difference between victories and defeats, besting your opponent and suffering heavy losses.

In the final days of the election campaign, we’re hearing a lot of language about games: winners and losers, gains and losses, competitions, “fights” and “battles”. And with the recent slew of scandals involving candidates betting on the election, it can look very much as if politics itself has become a game.

But voters don’t like it. More than the insider info and the suggestions of “being out for themselves”, it’s the gameplaying aspect that turns voters off. Asking voters “who won?” a debate, in which they are offered a zero sum, binary choice, puts the personalities of the two politicians, rather than priorities, policies or programmes in the spotlight.

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Decisions about who holds public office, who represents us and how we make collective decisions shouldn’t be a game, something to “play”, of no great consequence. This cheapens politics and trivialises democracy.

For if politics is a game, it’s not a fair one. Most voters understand that the more politics is gamified the more it becomes about the “players” – those on the pitch, who play on with little relationship to those in the stands, consulting them once every five years.

And it’s even worse than that: most voters’ “power” in the game of politics lies in their vote. But in our First Past the Post system, where 70% of votes don’t make a difference to the final outcome, even the few tokens that voters are left with aren’t worth very much.

So they’re left to do the best they can with what they have: weigh up their options and, in many cases, back the least worst candidate to represent them. In other words: their only power is to vote tactically.

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Some voters do this at every election, never having been granted the chance to vote for someone who aligns with their political views. Some shun tactical voting, plumping with their preferred party every time. But we know that what determines whether one voter has power or not is simply their postcode: in a “safe” seat, they might as well put their vote through a shredder. Others regard this whole game as nonsensical, and opt not to play: at every election in recent memory if they all voted together the “unheard third” of eligible voters would win power every time.

At Compass, the organisation I work for, we hate tactical voting. It epitomises the worst of a democratic system unable to respond to the best of the 21st Century: people’s appetite for participation, their capacity for complex thinking and their openness to innovation and imagination.

It forces parties into tight electoral straitjackets, incentivising them to say little and work around the margins. Particularly for progressives, who might want to expand people’s sense of possibility, First Past The Post punishes a visionary approach, pushing them instead towards a small-target strategy which leaves activists struggling to deliver a script and most voters frustrated and confused.  

The website tactical.vote shown gives advice on how to vote tactically in your area to get the Conservatives out. Photo: Sam Oaksey / Alamy

The media reinforces this sense that the parties have just got to “get the job done”, full of praise for Labour’s ‘efficiency’ (only targeting seats they can win), as if ignoring up to a third of all seats at most elections was normal for a national party wanting to assume government.

At this election, some Labour candidates in so-called “non-battleground” seats have been asked to sign a contract, promising not to campaign in the seat they were selected to represent. Instead they submit to being shipped out to a neighbouring “winnable” constituency.

Activists have been blocked from accessing voter data by the party machine, banned from even canvassing voters in their area. For most voters, the idea that someone might stand to give voters in their area the chance to vote Labour, only to be compelled not to contest the seat by that very party seems positively Kafkaesque. Once again it contributes to people’s sense of exasperation, that the game-playing has gone too far. And when people opt not to play, what starts as farce ends as tragedy, as faith in democracy corrodes.

Stuck with the system we have, we accept the contortions – as the two major parties carry on defending a system that is instrumentalist, top down and machine-driven.

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We’ve come to accept that tactical voting is an ordinary practice in a democracy, that the “clothes-peg” style of voting is normal for millions of people, and that millions more have to accept they live in “abandoned constituencies”.

Meanwhile, whilst acknowledging that it contributes to “the distrust and alienation we see in politics”, the Labour Party is still clinging on to a system that causes alienation. Tactical voting sites spring up every election, recognising FPTP but promising “we can overcome this problem” just by voting tactically – time and time again, or saying “this time we’re lending our votes… but they’ll have to be earned next time”. We all know the adage about doing the same thing and expecting different outcomes.

But we allow the distortions, too. Accepting that a supermajority could be won on just 37% of the vote and surprised when the people of Clacton, where 85% votes don’t count, might choose someone who would put them on the map. These are all symptoms of a democratic system that leaves voters frustrated, disempowered and cold.

So this time, we’re doing it differently. At this election, we’re only supporting candidates who back systems change, who recognise the farce that is FPTP and pledge to back democratic renewal, starting with shifting to proportional representation. Our network of autonomous local groups are working on the ground to get 41 PR supporting MPs elected, so they can form a caucus to push for change in the next parliament.

And we’re doing this, not through tactical voting, which can be a sad and lonely business, but through a vote swap tool, to link up voters across the country who don’t want to just vote tactically, but are motivated by feeling part of a network of voters who feel the same.

We believe at this election, the biggest threat to democracy is not the Conservatives or even Reform – it’s alienation. 

What we’re responding to is people’s need to be part of politics –not to play the game, but to play their part. Despite what turnout numbers might tell you, people’s appetite is more powerful than ever – if you know where to look for it.

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It’s there in the amazing social movements which are working at this election – people dropping leaflets for the climate emergency, youth participation and racial justice (Greenpeace, the Politics Project, Hope not Hate and many more). It’s there in the Independents who are putting themselves forward in huge numbers. And it’s there in the record numbers of candidates standing for election – 4515 at this election: since the last election, the number of constituencies with eight or more candidates has gone up 1128%. And it’s there in the thousands of Compass organisers and supporters, heading out to drop leaflets, knock doors and chat to people of all parties and none about how they feel about elections, politics and their lives. And how systems change could be part restoring their faith. 

Politics shouldn’t be a spectator sport. If we end up on the sidelines, the only thing we’ll ever be are losers. At this election, we’re calling for a pitch invasion, for people to break ranks and cover to push back against our rotten system, push for PR and swap their vote for change. So at this election, don’t just play the game. Play to win – and change the system for good.


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