The growing clamour for Remain parties to work together to maximise the number of Remain MEPs elected in any European elections is almost too late. The Greens and The Independent Group, preparing to stand candidates as Change UK – The Independent Group, have already rejected approaches from the Liberal Democrats for such an alliance.
Why is cooperation so important?
Voting in the European elections is conducted under the D’Hondt system. If you are looking for a good primer on how it works, the European Parliament’s Liaison Office in the United Kingdom has one here.
It is a broadly proportionate system, but it is not truly proportionate. It favours broad coalitions of small parties at the expense of small parties standing as single entities.
I have no idea why the Greens and Change UK have rejected working together. Perhaps it is out of a cynical determination to preserve party identity or perhaps it is because they don’t understand that this election doesn’t confer the benefits of a preferential voting system like the Single Transferable Vote, where every vote really does count.
In the end, it doesn’t matter.
The Electoral Commission deadlines for establishing a formal electoral arrangement have passed. The Greens and Change UK are refusing to cooperate informally to maximise the number of Remain MEPs elected.
Pause here for a moment to think about the sudden and meteoric rise of the Brexit Party.
The reason they are in such an electorally strong position is that they can treat any European election as a further referendum. They have their message in their branding. They have a capable, populist leader who has achieved success in previous European elections. And, as is apparent from recent polls, they are basically an electoral coalition. They are harvesting disaffected Tories, embarrassed former UKIPers, probably some Labour #Lexiters, and even those on the left, like George Galloway.
So, what is the answer for Remainers?
Well, if sending a message on Brexit is truly the priority for Remainers, and if they can stomach electing Remain MEPs above their traditional party loyalties, one option would be for Remain voters to ruthlessly game D’Hondt and go around the bickering parties.
When you go to the polling station, you will be given the opportunity to place one ‘X’ next to the party you want to win. You do not get to vote for the individual parties’ candidates (the only candidates you can vote for are independents without party affiliation). You do not get to offer a preference. You cannot put more than one ‘X’, even if, for example, you want to support both Change UK and the Greens, as you will spoil your ballot paper.
Your ballot paper will look something like this:
The only way to maximise the number of Remain MEPs is to ensure that Remainers vote for the strongest Remain party in each region – and only that party – to avoid splitting the vote and ending up in situation where, potentially, none get elected.
So how could we do this?
- Decide who the Remain parties are. My view is that Remainers should abandon Labour. They are negotiating to facilitate a disastrous Tory Brexit. Despite Labour’s Remain membership, leading spokespeople like Barry Gardiner insist they are not a party of remaining in the EU. If this election is about sending a message, Remainers must be ruthless in designating Remain parties, in just the same way that Leavers are ruthlessly abandoning the Tories for the Brexit Party. Unless Labour takes a pro-Remain position, and offers unequivocal support for a further referendum, Remainers should not put their ‘X’ by Labour. That means we are looking – in England – at the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Change UK, who are working with Renew. (I accept others will make the case to include Labour and perhaps Labour is included in regions where clear Remain Labour candidates top the lists, strengthening the case for facilitating candidate sign-ups to a Remain banner – see below.)
- Create an authoritative Remain banner that candidates from these parties can sign up to. We can’t rely on organisations like the People’s Vote campaign or Best for Britain to do this, as they will be restricted on how they can campaign in any European elections. But it needs to become an authoritative stamp of Remain credentials. This should be a clear commitment to a People’s Vote and campaigning to remain in the EU.
- Provide an easy and visual way, via a website, that shows two things: a.) who the Remain parties and candidates are in each region; and b.) how those parties are polling in each region. The latter polling point is crucial. It needs to aggregate and interpret the very best and most recent regional polling data to give the clearest view as to which party is leading in each European Election region. When it comes to election day, the party at the head of the Remain queue in each region is the one that Remainers should vote for, whichever party it is. You abandon your party loyalties, hold your nose and vote Remain.
- Create a mechanism on the website for individuals to vote match, so they can find solidarity with someone in a different region who is voting for someone they wouldn’t ordinarily (e.g. a Green voter voting for a Lib Dem) and a way to say why. This doesn’t have the same effect as tactical vote-matching in a First Past the Post election, but is about creating a sense of movement, of solidarity across party lines to deliver the message.
This is only one idea. It is fraught with complications.
Can Remainers organise quickly and effectively enough? Can they get a single, authoritative banner together that will encourage candidates to sign-up and drive competition amongst the parties to push up their campaigning and polling and become the lead party in a region? Will Remainers really abandon their party loyalties and vote for parties they may resent over issues like Coalition?
But the truth is, in the absence of parties working together to establish lead Remain parties in each region, Remainers need creative solutions to force an outcome on them and present a serious, UK-wide Remain challenge to the Brexit Party’s simple, hard-hitting Leave position.