A couple of years ago, if you’d told me David Cameron didn’t have long left as Prime Minister I’d have been overcome with glee. And if you’d mentioned UKIP were also about to be wiped out, well, I may have doubted your powers of prediction, but the idea would’ve been so appealing that I’d want to believe.
All of which goes to show you should be careful what you wish for. Under Theresa May, the Conservative government hasn’t abandoned its austerity agenda. They’ve not reversed the spending cuts planned in George Osborne’s budgets (the majority of which haven’t actually hit yet) and they’ve shown little compassion for the people suffering as a result. The NHS remains underfunded. Despite a token spending increase, the social care system is still in crisis. Everything that was bad about Cameron’s premiership is still a problem under May. On top of that, she’s found some brand new ways to be awful.
Local election results indicate that the UKIP vote has all but collapsed, but if you think that’s something to celebrate you’re not paying attention. It’s not that the party’s supporters have suddenly changed their minds – their extreme, xenophobic opinions have simply become mainstream. Why would you need to vote for a minor, outsider party when the current government is offering 90% the same thing? Like a python ingesting a rat, Theresa May has dislocated her jaw and swallowed them whole.
So vehemently has she pushed an anti-immigration, hard Brexit agenda, she seemed at risk of alienating more liberal supporters. However, for every vote the Conservatives have lost by tacking rightwards they’ve picked up several more. Moderate Tories might favour remaining in the single market, but when push comes to shove it seems most of them have other priorities. The Lib Dems’ strategy of positioning themselves as the most overtly pro-EU party has resulted in modest gains – but mainly at the expense of Labour. Aware that its core vote is sharply split, Corbyn’s party has had to try to adopt a stance that appeals to both Leave and Remain voters.
For anyone who wants to see the Conservatives out of power (especially the overtly xenophobic current iteration) this combination of factors is a recipe for disaster. Many Labour MPs in marginal seats are defending a majority smaller than the UKIP vote in their constituency. If most of those UKIP voters switch to the Tories, as many have in the local elections, then it’s game over. In some places, UKIP have decided not to even stand a candidate and have instructed their supporters to vote Conservative instead.
Labour voters switching to the Liberal Democrats could also help the Tories win seats where they’re currently a fairly close second. The irony is that people making that change are likely to be motivated by a desire to stop hard Brexit – but our FPTP voting system frequently has perverse effects. Largely because of that voting system, there are only two options: either the Conservatives remain in power or they’re replaced by a Labour-led government. The latter is something of a long shot, but it’s made more likely if left-leaning voters are smart.
Conservative and UKIP cooperation is easy because their policies are almost the same. Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have some more fundamental ideological differences which make a formal “progressive alliance” pretty much impossible. At ground level, though, we all have the opportunity to vote tactically if our goal is kicking the Tories out. That means opting for Labour in every seat they hold or are best placed to win, and the most viable progressive option (usually the Lib Dems) anywhere else.
The other potential weapon in our arsenal is boosting turnout. Young people are significantly more likely to support Labour, but less likely to actually make it to the ballot box. National polls oversample old people to account for this difference. Evidence suggests that if 18-24s voted at the same rate as pensioners, the Tories would be on track for a loss. Higher turnout amongst people in their late 20s and early 30s would also boost the chances of the left.
If you’ve never bothered to vote before, this is your chance to make a difference. If you’ve got mates who don’t see the point, it’s worth explaining to them the facts. Immigrants are being scapegoated for problems caused by Tory mismanagement, and hard Brexit is only going to make the economic situation worse. Young people will be expected to bear the brunt of spending cuts and Brexit minister David Davis has publicly stated that he plans to cut our employment rights.
Five more years of UKIP-influenced Conservative rule is a terrifying prospect, but those of us who believe in something better shouldn’t go down without a fight.