Is tactical voting unravelling before it has even begun?

26 June 2022

8:16 PM

26 June 2022

8:16 PM

Since the Tories lost not one but two by-elections on Friday, ministers have been rather quiet on the issue of Boris Johnson’s leadership. Where they have been more forthcoming, however, is tactical voting. Sajid Javid told the Daily Mail that Labour and the Liberal Democrats must ‘come clean’ over whether they have an electoral pact – arguing tactical voting had been on an ‘industrial scale’ when it came to the Tories’ heavy losses in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton.

It’s the prospect of mass tactical voting that is increasing nerves among Tory MPs who had thought they had relatively safe seats. As one put it to me: ‘The real danger is that people wake up to the fact that sufficient members of the public hate Boris Johnson so much they will do anything to get rid of him.’

This is why an intervention from the Lib Dems’ Alistair Carmichael this morning is rather striking. Speaking on Times Radio, Carmichael – who is the party’s spokesperson on home affairs, Northern Ireland and constitutional reform – appeared to hint that his party could entertain the idea of a coalition at the next election if the Tories ousted Johnson. He said at present the idea is not a ‘realistic prospect’ but there could be a very ‘different political landscape’ if Conservative MPs were to do the ‘honourable thing’ when it came to removing Johnson.

The comments have quickly been seized upon by Labour supporters who complain it shows ‘vote orange, go blue’. Unsurprisingly, Lib Dem sources have sought to down play them – suggesting Carmichael’s point was simply that the party can’t ‘engage in hypotheticals’ right now. This is a common theme – appearing on Sky News, Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper described a Lib Dem/Labour electoral pact as a hypothetical situation. But Carmichael’s comments contrast with Ed Davey, who previously told Sky News: ‘I will not put the Conservatives into government again’.

This afternoon a Lib Dem source goes further still: ‘Ed Davey has made it absolutely clear the Lib Dems will not go into coalition with the Conservatives. Ed and the party are absolutely focused on getting rid of Boris Johnson’s Conservatives who have no plan to help people with the cost of living crisis.’

Now it may well be that Johnson continues to lead the party into the next election (and the one after if the Prime Minister has anything to do with it – insisting on Saturday he was already thinking about his third term) so this hypothetical situation may never come to pass. Even if it did, the current leader doesn’t back it – and the membership would also take a view. But even the slightest suggestion that the Liberal Democrats could support the Tories in government again has the potential to turn off some Labour and Green supporters from voting Lib Dem to try to force the Tories out.

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