Election ’17: No Tactical Voting, Labour Can Win Portsmouth

Claire Udy is an occasional satirist for S&C. She thought joining Labour in 2015 after Corbyn was elected would be a hobby for her to learn about politics. Instead it changed her life. In that short amount of time she has already witnessed a local election, an EU referendum, and a Labour Party leadership challenge. She has become LGBT Officer for Portsmouth Labour, local party activist and president of her local GMB trade union branch. Halfway through a General Election campaign (whilst being a mature student and mother of two young children), here she explains why you shouldn’t undermine the hard work of local Labour activists by voting tactically in these unprecedented times.

I was hidden in my room, laptop open and Twitter was alight with talk of Theresa May calling an emergency press conference.

‘That’s it,’ I initially thought, ‘nuclear war is on its way.’

In a moment of pure melodrama I was frantically messaging my working husband setting out our end of the world plan. Instead, 11am arrived and the sinking feeling didn’t disappear as the words I feared most as a Labour supporter came flooding from Ms May’s mouth.

General Election.

Coincidentally, we had a usual party meeting scheduled for that night, but as you can imagine everything went out the window as all of us activists had been split into two camps, fight or flight. Our meeting that night was busier than we could have ever imagined and we shared our collective grief and fear over the dreaded Lib Dem bar charts. We were not going to let tactical voting take the wind from our sails.

When I finally got round to voting in my first General Election in 2010 (I turned 18 in 2006) as a lifelong resident of Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock was the glaringly obvious choice. I did not want a Conservative winning in Portsmouth South, and I thought I was doing my bit to help him keep his seat, being a, dare I say it, patriarch of Portsmouth.  I’ve always considered myself to be a Socialist and at this stage I was still angry at Labour for the Iraq war (I had tippexed ‘No War’ on my backpack in senior school and refused to go to lessons). I was also considering going to university as a mature student, and as free tuition was a policy pledge, the Lib Dems had me. What I was not expecting was the Lib Dems entering a coalition with the Conservatives. And then they went back on the tuition fee pledge. I am still rather bitter about that, amongst other things the Lib Dems have done whilst having control of the council locally and I am not the only one.

I finally joined Labour on the wave of Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader in late 2015 (and if you are a student thinking of a joining, do it, it’s £1 a year). I dragged myself to a Southsea branch meeting one cold night in January and there were lots of people there, but what I remember most vividly was the older women drinking Guinness (that’s my drink too!) and I realised that I had found my spiritual home. I’m still annoyed about Iraq, but the new members and returning ones found solidarity that Tony Blair was a let-down despite producing the best elections results for Labour in decades. That and we fucking hated the Tories. Anyway, back to the matter at hand: the General Election.

This past week, a huge group of us have worked to deliver 42,000 leaflets in Portsmouth South, all bearing the face (and beautifully moody photos) of your local Labour candidate, Stephen Morgan. Stephen was born in Portsmouth, educated in local state schools and lives in the city. His campaign to become a Councillor in Charles Dickens ward saw him unseat Lib Dem Margaret Foster after a 12-year reign. He has also become my mentor and is an incredibly hard working person who literally never stops. He was finally selected by the party on the 2nd of May, but by this point the Lib Dems had already stolen the march with one of their classic leaflets replete with dodgy bar chart!

Portsmouth Liberal Democrat election leaflet. [Image, Claire Udy]

This is the first thing the electorate here in Portsmouth South had seen, and it certainly has tongues wagging. What the Lib Dems fail to mention is that their vote collapsed in 2015, due to a mixture of propping up a Conservative government, going back on their tuition fee pledge, and having their ex-MP of over 20 years embroiled in a row over claims he had sexually assaulted a vulnerable constituent. The local Lib Dems had also made over £1.2million of cuts to Sure Start Centres in 2013, a trend which was continued by the Conservative council three years later. Futhermore we also have wee-gate, but that’s a story for another day.

What I am trying to say is that the Lib Dems have failed Portsmouth, but they don’t want you to remember that.

How do they get you to forget? By telling you that Labour can’t win here.

It scares the electorate into a tactical vote because the only thing we do have in common (or at least I think we do), is that we don’t want the Conservatives in government. When leafleting this week, I had my fair share of residents bound out of the front doors of their houses all excited that Labour had finally got a leaflet out but they also wanted to tell me that they were thinking of voting tactically.

Above: My reaction to Labour voters who are thinking of going tactical. Image by Claire Udy.

Hey! Labour will just split the anti-tory vote and Flick will get back in!’

Ahhhh, no. You’re assuming people will be voting for Liberal Democrats in droves, but this is in no way the case. In 2015, the Liberal Democrats lost a considerable share of their vote (see above). Both Labour and the Tories capitalised on this fall and it has put Labour in a ‘fair game’ bracket with the Lib Dems to contest the seat. Labour are working hard, and with 800 members in Portsmouth South alone, we have been able to mobilise a grass roots campaign to get in touch with the electorate.

Why are you contesting a seat you’ve never won?’

Remember in 2014 in the local elections when UKIP stormed the country and even got five seats on Portsmouth City Council? They didn’t even have to get off the sofa to win that one. The idea that a party can’t win a seat simply because they haven’t done before is a laughable notion and a pretty negative way to view the world when you think about it. Who wants to be told they are not capable of change? That things will always be the same no matter how hard you try? Portsmouth Labour are proud to say we almost have a member in every street in Portsmouth South. Imagine the visibility if they all just put a poster in their window at the very least?

Why don’t you just stand aside?’

Stephen Morgan has been a breath of fresh air in the council, and he is paving the way for a younger generation of aspiring politicians who want to change the world for the better and protect public services. Why would we want to stand aside for someone who absolutely wants to make a difference?

Labour are a viable alternative to a Tory and Lib Dem government, and we would like to give the electorate the chance to vote for whom they wish. We believe our policies and our candidate have the edge over other parties and candidates here in Portsmouth and we are campaigning relentlessly to get Stephen elected.

Here is my top tip: If you want to vote for Labour then you most certainly should.

People should not underestimate what they are capable of if working together. If you are considering a tactical vote, then why not spend a little time with us on the front line first and see how much is actually going into this campaign. See for yourself the positivity we are receiving from a the local public. Get in touch by sending us a message through our Facebook page and spend just an hour or two with us. This is one of the shortest election campaigns in history and will be one of the most significant in determining the future for Britain and the people who reside here.

We are living in a world where extraordinary things happen every day. Many have claimed we are living in a simulation, whilst others have read up on Billionaire Robert Mercer and the role of ‘Cambridge Analytica’ in politics on both sides of the Atlantic. Trump was elected, Britain voted to leave the EU and almost as astonishingly, our Eurovision entry did not get the dreaded ‘nil points’ as expected.

Labour winning may well be considered extraordinary but it is more than achievable. Literally all you have to do is vote.

Do I want the Tories out? Absolutely! Do we live in a society where as a democracy we can choose who we vote for? Yes! Do I want to restrict that choice? Hell no! We may not have proportional representation but we still have the right to exercise our vote. If you want to vote Labour in this election, don’t give in to the fear, put an x in that box! Also, seeing UKIP lose their deposit would be a glorious bonus, so let us do that too.

PS I’m hedging my bets on a grassroots movement winning this to the point that if it does then I will get the word “grARSEroots” tattooed on my butt.

All images by Claire Udy.