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Election: Tactical voting could still put the brakes on populism

The climate crisis ought to be the most important issue when we go to the polls, and we have led our daily coverage on that subject many times, as we pledged to do when the election was called. The NHS has rightly been given intense focus too, and questions of trust, and of the credibility of campaign claims, have come to define the nature of our politics in Britain in 2019.

There are many other important issues – which is why the front page of our Daily Edition today takes a break from the latest action to focus on what we have learnt about policies.

But inevitably our relationship with the European Union is a subject that deserves our urgent attention. Our view is that, now that the people know the terms on which we might leave the EU, they should be given the chance to give their final approval, or not. Our Final Say campaign has attracted the support of a great number of our readers, and 1.3 million signed our petition backing this call.

If Boris Johnson is returned with a majority to the office he has held since July, his Brexit deal will be voted through, and this time next year we will be facing another cliff-edge: the end of the transition period. Will we have a trade deal completed with the EU? Will this be a new “no-deal Brexit” moment? Against this backdrop, how can any government hope to fix all the other issues that arose during this campaign – from the climate to healthcare?

That is why we have tried in this campaign to give our readers as much information as possible about tactical voting: about how best to vote for candidates who might deliver a Final Say referendum. Of course, how you vote is your choice, but we sympathise with the great many who say they will switch allegiances this week in an effort to deny Mr Johnson that majority.

It is fair to say that when the election was called, The Independent saw Brexit in similar terms to the Liberal Democrats. With her switch to revoke, rather than a referendum, Jo Swinson took her party in a different direction.

This change of policy looked like positioning, not principle. She was worried that the Labour Party might move towards a more explicit Remain policy, so she sought to be distinctive. But it was only possible to justify the pledge to revoke Article 50 by claiming the mandate of a majority Lib Dem government, which was never credible. And, while calling a referendum is a democratic step, cancelling Brexit without one is not – in the eyes of many who were attracted to her party. 

Ms Swinson had perhaps inhaled too much of her own propaganda. For a moment she thought the Lib Dems could not only stop Brexit but gain a lot of seats by backing an early election. The latter seems unlikely to materialise, as she now admits.

The Labour Party has also fought a confused campaign. Its leader is as divisive as the prime minister he wishes to replace. At least Labour’s policy on Brexit is to allow voters the Final Say, and Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, deserves credit for bringing a reluctant leadership round. The leftover absurdities are not his fault: for example, that Jeremy Corbyn would send him to negotiate a new Brexit deal against which he, Sir Keir, would campaign in the subsequent referendum.

As for the rest of Labour’s programme, at least it sets out an ambitious vision. Higher taxes to pay for better public services may be necessary, but the scale and speed of Labour’s manifesto agenda is unconvincing. There must be questions about whether there is a sufficient number of top-calibre politicians to oversee a sweeping agenda of nationalisation, and then the delivery of so many crucial services.

But of most concern to a great many voters, Mr Corbyn’s failure to deal rigorously and honestly with prejudice in his party against Jewish people has been a moral disaster. 

Against those must be weighed the failings of the main alternative, which is Boris Johnson. For all the hype about what a great campaigner he is, it turned out that he did not want to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, and could not bring himself to look at a photo of a child lying on a hospital floor, showing all the empathy of his predecessor, Theresa May. As for his policies, his casual attitude towards poverty is disturbing. Indeed, he seems unserious about most things, including sexism and Islamophobia in his party, and in his own past.

His attempt to suspend parliament, unlawfully as it turned out, said nothing good about his view of democracy. His campaign’s attitude towards the truth has been flexible. His manifesto includes an ominous review of “the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts”. He might claim that was a mandate to stop the Supreme Court “interfering” in politics, which would make it easier for the executive to abuse its power.

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It is his careless approach to Brexit that counts most against him, however. On the issue on which he chose to fight this election, he has betrayed the people of Northern Ireland, proposing to divide them from the rest of the United Kingdom, and he cannot guarantee to deliver a trade deal with the EU by the end of next year.  

What, then, is the alternative to this blind Brexit? If sufficient numbers vote tactically, it is still possible that Mr Johnson wins the most seats but fails to secure a majority of MPs. A hung parliament would certainly be unpredictable. Could his government last? Would Mr Corbyn be able to seize his chance?

When the two main parties have become so extreme, a minority government – held in check by the need to seek support – is no bad option. Labour’s economic policies, for instance, could be tempered by the Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto promises both to do more for the poor and to be more fiscally responsible. Would Mr Corbyn end up in No 10? Possibly, but we can be sure that his full economic agenda could not get through parliament.

Of the other parties who might form part of a democratic alliance to legislate for a new referendum, the Scottish National Party voted for this election because they too expected to gain seats, but any party that is in favour of second referendums generally is good enough to serve the national interest after this election, and they too have potential to keep a possible Corbyn government in check. That applies also in Wales, where Plaid Cymru is opposed to Brexit, and in Northern Ireland, where the Social Democratic and Labour Party, Labour’s anti-Brexit sister party, hopes to regain two seats. As for the Green Party, its failure to capitalise on the widespread alarm about climate change has been surprising – even Friends of the Earth declared that Labour had the best policies for the environment in this election. 

Only one party slogan will live long in the memory: “Get Brexit Done” is the most blatant untruth in an election that has changed the game. The Brexit deadline of 31 January would be followed by the end of the transition period, scheduled to be 31 December. The 11 months in between will be dominated by Brexit, and another countdown to another self-inflicted moment of crisis.

Those who do not want to see this happen should cast their vote accordingly, taking into account the tactical situation in their constituency. Should Mr Johnson win his majority, it would be a victory for a misleading slogan, for untruth on Brexit, and for populism.

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