Politics should be about principles and policy. Inevitably it is also about personalities. Ideally it shouldn’t be about propaganda. If you believe in something you shouldn’t want to win a point by misleading someone.
In the eighties and nineties the Liberal Democrats used to engage in what they called pavement politics. This involved focusing their efforts in particular areas where they thought they had the best chance of being successful. This involved one particularly underhand tactic. In areas where the Conservatives were strong they would do their best to ‘squeeze’ the Labour vote by putting out leaflets pointing out that Labour couldn’t win. This was often done in local council wards where Labour in fact certainly could win, and from time to time where they actually did win.
What annoyed me about it was that it was such a complete abdication of what politics should be about. There was a sort of implication that the Lib Dems were in some way a sort of left wing alternative, though without any justification of the Lib Dem’s actual position. But basically it was treating politics as a game rather than a debate about the issues. They were using their limited resources not to get their message across but to try and frame the contest in a way that suited their purposes. Vote for us because we are the only people who can get rid of someone you dislike – a totally negative message in every way. No wonder people become cynical about the whole business of voting.
I am most sympathetic to Labour, but basically I am a floating voter and have turned out to put my cross against the Conservatives, the Greens and on one occasion the Liberal Democrats. I try to select the best candidate and will sometimes vote for a person rather than a party. I was apprehensive about voting Lib Dem largely because of the ‘support us because someone else can’t win’ approach – it really ticked me off. But in 2010 a coalition government looked to be a possibility and I have always wanted proportional representation. I thought that was a prize worth holding my nose for once. In the end, the form of PR that the Lib Dems agreed to offer was just about the only one that was worse than the current system. I have downgraded my opinion of them from ‘completely pointless’ to ‘positive liability’.
I don’t really subscribe to the ‘wasted vote’ argument. If you vote for a party that has no chance of winning but whose principles or policies you agree with, you vote does count. You may not get represented but your voice is still being heard. This does mean that you have to back parties that have some principles. This is not the case with the Liberal Democrats, as their pathetic electoral tactics demonstrate.