This column is written by Rachel Holdsworth, whose fine, witty writing on London politics, housing issues and more used to regularly grace Londonist. She’s now a freelance writer and editor and the owner of a lovely ginger cat.
What are you voting for in this election? I don’t mean which candidate or party. I mean: what are you expecting when you cross that box?
The Conservatives want to make this a plain choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. But, even with the best will in the world, Corbyn is not going to be our next Prime Minister. So what are you actually voting for?
In this glorious political mess we call British parliamentary democracy, we send one person to represent us as a community. But as members of parties they have a tribal loyalty. And we, as voters, often use that tribal loyalty to decide which way to cast our ballot. This time, however, it’s a little different.
Brexit Brexit sodding Brexit. Given the state of the country after seven years of austerity, this election should rightly be fought on inequality, stalling incomes, cuts to public services and the NHS. But it’s going to be Brexit, because:
- That’s why Theresa May called the damn thing.
- It’s still so up in the air it’s the only thing the media wants to talk about.
- Arguably, what happens to Britain after we leave the EU will have such an effect on people’s jobs, wages and services that it envelopes all inequality issues.
Brexit is a wild card in this election. It brings into play factors that didn’t exist in 2015. Previous vote tallies may not be reliable indicators of future results. Tactical and issue-based voting are right up there.
So let’s think for a moment about what you want from your MP. Are you voting for the party? Do you want someone who’ll never defy the whips? Do you want someone who always does, what the constituents want? Or do you want someone somewhere between the two, who shows independence of mind and is able to weigh up the pros and cons of every situation?
It’s likely most of us want our MP to be option three, particularly those who are represented by an MP from a party not of our choosing. Nobody wants an MP who ignores letters, or replies with patronising notes that imply you, constituent, should keep your little head out of things you don’t understand. (I speak from experience.)
Now factor in Brexit. What do you do?
What do you do if you’re a progressive and live in Vauxhall? I know several people there who should be natural Labour voters in this election but can’t bring themselves to pull the lever for prominent Brexiteer, and Farage-boat-sharer, Kate Hoey. They feel she’s lost their trust; unsurprising in a constituency that voted 78.6% for Remain. Hoey may genuinely believe that leaving the EU is best for Britain, but I’m willing to bet there are lots of people living in Brixton, Kennington and Clapham who are now worried about whether they’ll be allowed to stay in the UK, or about family and friends in the same situation. That doesn’t sound much like representing her constituents to me.
What do you do if you’re a Conservative Remainer and live in Chingford and Woodford Green? The constituency split pretty much 50:50 in the referendum. Iain Duncan Smith is as big a Brexit cheerleader as they come. How many of his 8,386 majority are furious enough about Brexit to overcome their party loyalties and switch sides, or sit this one out? How many of 2015’s 4,254 Lib Dem and Green voters in that seat will tactically switch to Labour? (Given what we saw in the local elections, it’s likely that a large chunk of the 5,644 UKIP vote will switch to Duncan Smith so I reckon he’s safe. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens to his majority.)
What do you do if you’re a progressive who’s lost patience with Corbyn, but your safe seat Labour MP voted against triggering Article 50? I can answer this one, because that happens to be me. On 8 June I’ll vote Labour for the first time in 20 years because my MP, Lewisham Deptford’s Vicky Foxcroft, listened to an avalanche of communication from constituents begging her to vote against the Labour whip – even though she was a whip herself. The argument went: yes, we know there’s no chance of blocking it, but we voted overwhelmingly to Remain here. Let’s not pretend this was unanimous. She listened; she put her job on the line; she voted for us. That’s what I want in an MP.
To cycle back to Corbyn: he’s not going to be Prime Minister. Barring a miracle, he’s just not, so unless you live in Islington North you’re not voting for him. If you’re a progressive voter, the only thing you know for sure on 9 June is who will be looking after your interests in Westminster (and for Labour, who’ll get a nomination in the inevitable leadership contest).
If you’re a Conservative – well, you’re getting Theresa May. The only issue now is how emphatic you want that return to be. What voices you want in her ear.
The question has perhaps never been more important: what do you want your MP to be?