'Vote swappers' aim to wipe out leading Conservatives in internet campaign

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard and six Shadow Cabinet colleagues are at the top of a "hit list" drawn up by a new tactical voting campaign aimed at "decapitating" the Conservative leadership at the general election.

Labour and Liberal Democrat voters in marginal constituencies are being urged to "swap" their votes in a campaign launched on Sunday to defeat high-profile Conservatives and preserve Labour and Liberal Democrat gains.

Organisers say they want tactical voting to wipe out the Conservatives for 30 years and help the Liberal Democrats to become Britain's second party.

The campaign, run by a not-for-profit firm called Howard's End, was set up by a group of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters. Its spokesman, Jason Buckley, a teacher from Essex, said: "For Labour voters, there are seats where voting Lib Dem is a no-brainer. The chance to oust senior Tories like Howard, Letwin, Davis and May is irresistible. The only people voting Labour in these seats should be the candidates and their agents.

"Getting Lib Dems to vote Labour is a harder sell, but the Tories' Alf Garnett whingeathon helps us. It reminds people why tactical voting started in the first place. If Lib Dems stop voting tactically, the gains the Tories make will put the Lib Dems' progress in the shade. Charles Kennedy wants to step over the Tories, so his supporters need to keep them on the floor by voting Labour where necessary."

Mr Howard, who is defending a majority of less than 6,000 against the Liberal Democrats, is a target of the internet-based campaign. A combination of Labour and Liberal Democrat votes could have overturned his 5,907 majority in 2001.

Other targets include Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, whose majority is just 1,400; David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, with a 1,900 majority; and Theresa May, the shadow minister for the family. Tim Collins, the shadow Education Secretary, is also on the hit list, along with Caroline Spelman, the shadow local government minister, and David Willetts, the Tory policy chief.

There is also a campaign to swing the vote in the most marginal seats. Target seats include Taunton, where Adrian Flook has a majority of just 235 over the Liberal Democrats.

Campaigners have produced thousands of leaflets to encourage tactical voting. Voters are asked to sign up on the website tacticalvoter.net to pledge to swap their vote with a Liberal Democrat or Labour supporter in a marginal seat. There is no guarantee that "paired" voters will keep to their word, but organisers are considering a series of tactical voting parties to allow people to swap postal votes. They say vote swapping helped to swing the result in two constituencies in 2001; the Liberal Democrat gain in Cheadle, and Dorset South, where the Labour MP Jim Knight scraped home with a majority of 153.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission, which monitors general elections, said vote swapping was within electoral rules, but no one could break the privacy of the polling booth.



Conservative Party leader

Folkestone & Hythe (Maj: 5,907)

Lib Dem target


Shadow Chancellor

Dorset West (Maj: 1,414)

Lib Dem target


Home Affairs spokesman

Haltemprice and Howden (Maj: 1,903)

Lib Dem target


Family spokeswoman

Maidenhead (Maj: 3,284)

Lib Dem target


Local govt spokeswoman

Meriden (Maj: 3,784)

Lab target


Education spokesman

Westmorland & Lonsdale (Maj: 3,147)

Lib Dem target


Work and Pensions spokesman

Havant (Maj: 4,207)

Lab target