Writing About GE2019: Kensington

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 19th November 2019, then updated on 13th December 2019, with support from my Ko-Fi network.

Written on 19th November 2019, as part of a series on tactical voting

I am not likely to consider constituencies in detail, because in practically all instances, if you live there, you know the constituency in far more detail than I could, and if you have a not-Tory incumbent, you should certainly know more than I do about whether they’re a good constituency MP.

But I do want to talk about Kensington.

In order for Boris Johnson to win a majority, he has to hold every seat the Tories won in 2017, and gain at least three more.

Election Polling is a useful website that lists the target and defence seats for each party in order of majority. Kensington is top of the Tory attack list: the Labour incumbent, Emma Dent Coad, won by 20 votes over the Tories in 2017, the very first time Kensington had ever had a Labour MP. The LibDems were a long way third, and have always – even when they were doing well – been third-place candidates in Kensington. If you are tactically-voting in Kensington, voting for Coad would be the right thing to do.

Coad’s Tory challenger is Felicity Buchan, Kensington resident and treasurer of the local Conservative Association.

Of more interest is the third-place candidate – former Conservative MP for East Surrey, newly-LibDem PPC Sam Gyimah. East Surrey is an absolutely safe Tory constituency, and Gyimah, though he had been their MP since May 2010, evidently didn’t intend to risk coming third as East Surrey voted for the Conservative Party again. (They will likely elect Claire Coutinho, hard-Brexiter and Boris Johnson fan.)

I admit: all of us who want the UK to remain in the EU owe Sam Gyimah a nod of respect for his voting for the Benn Act in September, which lost him the Tory whip. Without the Benn Act, we could well have crashed out in No Deal Brexit on 31st October.

Sam Gyimah recently accused Emma Dent Coad of being involved in the decision to put flammable cladding on Grenfell Tower. He did so to deflect blame from himself as a Conservative party minister being questioned about the Tory government cuts that had made the Grenfell tragedy worse. Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council is a Tory-controlled council but Coad was (and still is) a Labour councillor there – the Grenfell Tower fire happened days after she became the Labour MP. Coad has consistently spoken out against the decisions that led to the fire, and was able to send Gyimah a detailed rebuttal based on council records to prove she had no connection with the cladding decision. She invited Gyimah to withdraw his accusation. When he failed to do so, she reported it to the police this past Sunday: damaging lies about your opponent that you know are lies are virtually the only kind of lies a politician is not legally allowed to tell, when campaigning for office.

Where a LibDem like Sam Syimah could certainly be useful in avoiding the Rotten Scenario* is in peeling off the Tory Remainers. (*Conservative majority, Boris Johnson as PM, Johnson’s deal enacted by 31st January, risk of no-deal Brexit on 31st December 2020.)

Felicity Buchan is evidently well aware of this risk to her share of the vote, as she is asserting (online, at least) that she’s no hard-Brexiter, she wants a good Brexit deal.

Sam Gyimah is not going to be the MP for Kensington in GE2019. But, if he convinces enough Tory Remainers to vote for him, he could give Emma Dent Coad a better chance of winning on 12th December.

Or – which in fact seems to be his strategy with this attack on Coad – to try to pull in LibDems and even Labour who might vote for Coad tactically to keep the Tories out, but who could be persuaded that the LibDems/Sam Gyimah are the right tactical vote in Kensington – and thus let Felicity Buchan win. Whether this is deliberate on his part or whether as a very-recent Tory he reflexively attacks Labour when the damage done by austerity is put to him, we’re unlikely to know til well after the general election.

In this respect, I note that out of five tactical voting websites on offer, while two websites (tactical.vote and tacticalvote.co.uk) recommend you vote for the Labour incumbent, Remain United responds, more or less, “politics is hard – no recommendation”, and GetVoting recommends voting LibDem. (The People’s Vote website won’t give out any tactical-voting information unless you give them your data, which I wasn’t inclined to do.)

Why mention Kensington?

Because it is, most likely, top of the Tory target list as a seat they very much want to win back and very likely can. The voters most likely to want to vote Labour in Kensington are those least likely to be registered to vote. Sam Gyimah appears to have decided, in his first campaign as a LibDem, to try to push likely Labour voters away from Coad, not to try to win Tory Remainers from voting for Buchan. And at least one tactical voting site, supposedly for “Best for Britain” is recommending voters waste their vote on the LibDem instead of trying to keep the Tories out by voting for the non-Tory incumbent.

All of that is public and in the open.

What we know about Boris Johnson’s strategy for 2019 is that the bulk of the Tory funding will be going on campaigning that isn’t public and isn’t open – that people who take it in may never realise they were influenced by a Conservative Party Political ad. Individuals in key constituencies will be targeted to convince them to waste their vote on a candidate who can’t win, to stay home and not vote at all – to do anything other than vote for the not-Tory incumbent or vote for the most likely to win challenger.

Let’s consider another constituency: Oxford West and Abingdon. Nicola Blackwood won it for the Tories in 2010 with a majority of 176 over the LibDem incumbent. She held it for the Tories in 2015, substantially increasing her majority to 9582, against LibDem challenger Layla Moran: Layla Moran won it for the LibDems in 2017, but with a majority of only 816. All other things being equal, if you were voting tactically against the Tories in Oxford West and Abingdon, you would need to vote LibDem – Labour is a long way behind as third party. Is Layla Moran acknowledging this? Quite possibly on doorsteps: but her Twitter feed leads with a defence of the LibDem strategy in London, discussed above with regard to Kensington. Her Tory challenger, James Fredrickson, is explicitly campaigning as a Brexiter MP who’ll vote for Boris Johnson’s deal: Layla Moran may therefore be more interested in pulling Tory Remainer votes away from Fredrickson. (And, to be clear, looked at on an overall level of how to ensure the Tories lose a few dozen seats to LibDems and Labour and SNP, this is a good strategy.)

The one thing that could frustrate this strategy – of getting Labour tactical votes and Tory Remainer votes as well as the LibDem core votes – would be any definite committment from the LibDems that they’ll certainly support either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson into Downing Street if neither Labour or the Tories have a majority.

If the LibDems have made clear (they have not) that they will go into coalition with the Conservatives again, that neatly removes the Labout hold-nose justification for voting LibDem: if voting LibDem, even if it removes the Tory overall majority, *means* a Tory/LD coalition like we suffered under 2010-2015, then what’s the point of voting tactically in a Tory/LD marginal?

What the LibDems have said is they’ll work wtih *either* party on an issue-by-issue basis: that is, the Uncooked or Scottish or LibLab scenarios. While the Uncooked (enough Tories and LibDems for Tories to form a government with LibDems in confidence and supply) isn’t great by any means, it *is* a damn sight better than the Rotten scenario of Tory overall majority.

I’ve seen multiple people online recently whom I do not by any means suspect of being Tory bots or sockpuppets, claiming that LibDems are going to form a coalition with the Tories. But the LibDems have never said this, and the party that *primarily* benefits from voters believing this is so is the Conservatives – out of the 12 LibDem-held constituencies won in 2017, the four in Scotland might be taken by the SNP – but the remaining eight by the Tories. In the four most-vulnerable LibDem constituencies, where the incumbent LibDem has a majority of less than 2000 – all in England: all with a Tory in second place.

Labour has 36 constituencies where the Labour MP last time won by a majority of less than 2000. Nine in Scotland, vulnerable to the SNP: one in Wales, vulnerable to Plaid Cymru: all the other 26 constituencies had a Conservative in second place last time.

If you’re going to vote tactically – and I do regard it as an individual matter of conscience whether you do or not – then voting for the non-Tory incumbent is the clearest tactical-voting choice, or failing that, voting for the party that either beat the Tories last time or came closest to beating them.

The Conservatives are, plain and simple, the party that most benefits from Labour voters in vulnerable constituencies deciding there’s no point voting tactically for the LibDems: they are also the party that most benefits from LibDem voters deciding that Corbyn is just too awful and they won’t vote Labour even to keep the Tories out.

Therefore, please: if you’re going to vote tactically, be canny and fact-check: and if you’re generally inclined to vote tactically to keep the Tories out but something you picked up somewhere is putting you off doing it in your constituency – check it out. Where it came from. Why you believed it. Whether it really makes a difference.

And get people to register to vote.

Updated on 13th December 2019

If it weren’t so depressing it might be funny: Sam Gyimah won Kensington for the Conservatives.

(Felicity Buchan got a majority of 150 over Emma Dent Coad – both on 38% of the vote – Sam Gyimah, who slandered Coad about Grenfell during the election campaign, got 21% of the vote. LibDems had run in Kensington, as in other Con\Lab marginals, as the tactical voting choice.)

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