Election '97: How to get rid of them

So you really want the Tories out? Paul Routledge offers some pinball strategies

Paul Routledge
Saturday 26 April 1997 23:02 BST

So You sincerely want a change of government? It may not be as difficult as you think. More than 33 million people are entitled to vote in the General Election on Thursday, and seven out of 10 will do so. But it requires only around 12,000 to vote tactically in key constituencies to give John Major his P45 from Downing Street. A further 80,000 tactical votes could give Tony Blair a working majority.

In a spirit of public interest, the Independent on Sunday offers tactical advice. Careful adherence, say the tactical pointy-heads, will see off the Conservatives. The principle is simple: where Labour or the Liberal Democrats - or, in Scotland, the SNP - are best placed to beat the Tories, then pocket your political pride and vote for the candidate most likely to rob Michael Heseltine of his.

This being Britain, a pressure group has sprung up to publicise the virtues of tactical voting. GROT - Get Rid Of Them - is circulating a list of 90 target constituencies. Bruce Kent, doyen of the peace movement and GROT's chairman, admits: "Our overriding priority is to get rid of the present government. Tactical voting where your own candidate cannot win is simply common sense." Of these, just 20 could do the trick - not the ones that will naturally fall to Labour, but the constituencies that will require a bigger swing. Here then is the Independent on Sunday's Top Twenty. It could change our lives.

In St Ives (1), the picture-postcard fishing village in Cornwall, charity worker Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat, needs less than a 2 per cent swing on the last election result to defeat the Conservative, William Rogers, an insurance broker. Labour's vote here in 1992 fell below 10,000, and only a few need defect to the Lib Dems to give them victory.

Staying in the West Country, Gloucester (2) is vulnerable to a 4.4 swing to Labour. The Lib Dems here do not have a hope, but Labour's Tess Kingham, formerly a worker for the charity War on Want, is in with more than a shout against the Conservative, skiing- and squash-loving Douglas French.

Practically next door in Hereford (3), Colin Shepherd, Tory MP since 1974, will be out if Labour voters switch in sufficient numbers to Liberal Democrat, Paul Keetch. A swing of less than 3 per cent will do the trick.

Down on the south coast, Lib Dems should think seriously about helping history to be made in Brighton Pavilion (4), a Tory bastion for as long as anyone can remember. If they switch to Labour's David Lepper, a teacher with a thing about bicycling, outgoing Conservative MP Sir Derek Spencer QC could be looking for new briefs.

In nearby Crawley (5), Liberal Democrats can get rid of the Tories if only a few hundred back Labour's Laura Moffatt, a nurse. Just up the road, and far more controversially, tactical voters have Sir Tim Rathbone, one-time head of public relations at Conservative Central Office, in their sights at Lewes (6). The county town of East Sussex is home to GROT's chief number-cruncher, Hugh Forbes, a retired scriptwriter who has been threatened with expulsion from the Labour Party for advocating voting for the Liberal Democrat, schoolteacher Norman Baker. Labour cannot win here, but an all-out effort could just oust Sir Tim. The Lewes Question begs the most important one of all: what is more important, loyalty to party discipline and programme, or flexible choice in pursuit of bigger political game? Forbes insists: "What's the point of pushing up Labour's vote to say 15 per cent if we cannot win? Paddy Ashdown has given a fairly clear coded message to vote tactically. Labour won't do anything like that."

The issue arises in Twickenham (7), where Labour is still pretending it can win, but where tactical voting for the Liberal Democrat candidate Vincent Cable could easily unseat Tory croquet-freak Toby Jessel, who will go out on a 5 per cent swing to the Lib Dems.

In the Midlands and the North, tactical voting is almost invariably on Labour's side. To oust Tony Marlow, obsessive Tory Eurosceptic, in Northampton North (8), Paddy Ashdown's people will have to go for Labour's Sally Keeble, who writes books about having babies.

In Derby North (9), there is a prize opportunity to get rid of Trade minister Greg Knight, a former Whip, if enough Lib Dems switch to Labour's Bob Laxton, leader of the city council. And a few miles away, sweet victory is available in Derbyshire South (10), where Edwina Currie, novelist and quondam Eggs minister, will fall to a 1.5 per cent swing to Labour. There are rich pickings hereabouts. Treasury minister Angela Knight will bid goodbye at Erewash (11), if some of the 8,000 Liberal Democrats move over to Labour.

The West Midlands is a proving ground for New Labour. Worcester (12), home of the newly invented Worcester woman, supposed successor to Essex man, is vulnerable to a swing of 3 per cent particularly if Lib Dems support Labour's Michael Foster, a lecturer. Redditch (13), home of the nation's needle-making trade, will benefit from a subtle move of some of the 6,000 or so Liberal Democrats to Labour's Jacqui Smith, a local councillor and one of the Emily's List pioneers. Further north, in the City of Chester(14), Lib Dems would be best advised to vote for Labour's Christine Russell if they want to see the back of Gyles Brandreth, the Tory impersonality who goes out on a 2 per cent swing. And in Southport (15), you must vote Liberal Democrat if you want to give Tory Matthew Banks, a former officer in the Gordon Highlanders, his marching orders.

In Yorkshire, Lib Dems have the opportunity to hand over Leeds North East (16), the seat that should give Labour an overall majority at Westminster. If they back Fabian Hamilton, a local businessman, against Tory minister Timothy Kirkhope, it would be the signal for Tony Blair to book a furniture van. Tactical voting in the county also requires support for the Labour man in Elmet (17), a former mining area east of Leeds, against Tory Spencer Batiste. Better, for my money, would be to support Harold Best, the Labour man in Leeds North West, who has more of a chance of ousting Tory Keith Hampson, the Heselteeny, than has Barbara Pearce, the Liberal Democrat. But perhaps that's family prejudice. His son is married to my daughter.

North of the border, Labour voters should screw their courage to the sticking-place and vote for the SNP in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (18), thereby ousting Trade Secretary and would-be Tory leader Ian Lang. The same goes for Tayside North (19), where noisy Conservative Bill Walker is vulnerable to a 4 per cent swing to the SNP. In Wales, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru might feel it worthwhile making way in the Vale of Clwyd (20) for Labour's Chris Ruane, a deputy headteacher credited with cleaning up Rhyl.

Despite being the most likely beneficiary of tactical voting, Labour strongly disapproves. "There is only one way to ensure a Labour government, and that is to vote Labour," said a spokesperson stiffly. And a source in Mr Blair's office added: "It's wrong for the leader of the Labour Party to have candidates standing and working in all parts of the country, and to tell people 'don't vote for them.' But tactical voting happens. There is nothing you can do about it."

Anthony King, professor of government, predicts: "Tactical voting on a large scale could make the result on 1 May even worse for the Tories than the opinion polls are suggesting." Is that not a price beyond prejudice?

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