Few observers believe Jeremy Corbyn has a hope of stopping Theresa May returning to Downing Street. The only game in town for pro-Europeans is, therefore, tactical voting.
The best election result that pro-Europeans can realistically hope for is to maximise the number of MPs who are opposed to a destructive Brexit – irrespective of the party they belong to. This will require tactical voting on a grander scale than the UK has hitherto witnessed.
Gina Miller, who brought the successful legal challenge stopping May triggering Article 50 without parliamentary authority, has already launched a crowdfunding drive to support candidates “who campaign for a real final vote on Brexit, including rejecting any deal that leaves Britain worse off”. By time of publication, it had raised over £135,000.
There will be several other similar initiatives. Meanwhile, Tony Blair has called for a cross-party campaign to elect “as many MPs as possible with an open mind” on Brexit, though the former Labour prime minister oddly says he’s not advocating tactical voting.
Anti-Tory or anti-Brexit?
For such initiatives to bear fruit, there will need to be clear criteria for judging which candidates are worth backing. Two main approaches are currently being discussed in public: focus on the candidate best able to stop a Tory being elected; or the one best able to stop a destructive Brexit.
Some people will say these approaches amount to the same thing, as the more Tory MPs are elected, the easier it will be for May to ram through whatever Brexit she wants. But this isn’t entirely so, unless the prime minister locks all her colleagues into hardline positions via her manifesto. Quite a few Tory MPs are pro-European, even if only a handful such as Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry have dared to stick their heads above the parapet.
What’s more, there are shades of anti-Brexiters in the other parties. Liberal Democrats and Greens, for example, are generally more pro-European than Labour candidates – and some Labour MPs are more pro-European than others.
For these reasons, the main criterion for selecting candidates to support should be whether they are anti-destructive Brexit rather than anti-Tory – even if the number of Conservatives backed was small.
Anti-Brexit or anti-destructive Brexit?
How should one then define whether a candidate is sufficiently anti-destructive Brexit? One could set the bar very high, saying one would only back candidates committed to opposing Brexit. A slightly lower bar would be those promising voters a final say on whether we should leave the EU once we know what Brexit means. Lower still would be those committed to a meaningful vote in Parliament on the final deal.
The higher the bar is set, the fewer the candidates who will meet the grade. The practical solution may be to set it somewhere in the middle, roughly where Miller has – backing candidates who are both committed to a meaningful vote in Parliament and to voting against any destructive Brexit outcome.
A further question will then be which candidate to back in any constituency if more than one meets the hurdle. The obvious criterion would be the one most likely to win, though the extent of a candidate’s pro-European credentials should also be a factor.
In judging which anti-destructive Brexit candidate is most likely to win, 2015 election results should only be a guide. In some constituencies, viable independent candidates may emerge.
In cases where there are multiple pro-European candidates, maximum pressure should be put on the weakest to step down. Otherwise, the anti-Brexit vote will be split – and the pro-Brexit candidate will be chosen.
All this will be needed for tactical voting initiatives to have the maximum impact. But even this will not be enough. They will also need to be well run, generously funded and supported by thousands of volunteers.
Now is the time for pro-Europeans to put their money and their efforts where their mouths are. This election is probably their last chance to have any influence on what sort of Brexit we end up with.
Edited by Luke Lythgoe