As H.L. Mencken said, "every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods". It's election day today here in the UK. Time for all of us to place our bids in the auction!
The last time we voted was in the EU referendum of June 2016, where the question was straightforward: do we want the UK to remain in the EU or leave the EU? In other words, do we want to continue to be ruled by Brussels or would we rather be ruled by London? It was a clear and specific binary choice - and a very simple one for me. More liberty? Yes, please! Thankfully, the British public chose to vote leave and we are on our way out - hopefully.
General elections are messy. We are not faced with a specific binary question. We have to pick between whole packages of policies and personalities from several different parties. Invariably, each person will agree with some of the policies of one party and some of the policies of another party.
Choosing between the parties based on their policies is already complicated and difficult - even for people who, like me, have strong ideas about what we want and what the consequences each parties' policies are likely to be.
In my previous four blog posts, I reviewed the BBC's bullet-point summaries of the manifestos of each of the main parties: Conservatives, Labour, LibDems and UKIP. Below is a summary table of the results in each of ten policy areas. I gave a positive score to any policy that would increase liberty and a negative score to any policy that would decrease liberty.
For this scorecard to mean anything, I have to assume that 1) the manifestos of the parties actually reflect their policy intentions, without omission, and 2) the BBC bullet-point summaries are an accurate reflection of the manifestos. I have my doubts about both of these. For example, Labour's proposed "land value tax" which would replace "council tax" but significantly increase how much tax we all have to pay, does not make it into the BBC's summary. Nor do the worrying Conservative policies around internet and free speech regulation.
Nevertheless, I will assume the scores above are broadly representative of which parties will increase or decrease liberty. Clearly, I won't be voting for Labour or the LibDems. Their policies on Brexit alone make it impossible for me to vote for them. On top of that, Labour in particular are led by Marxists and would be an economic disaster for the country.
UKIP scored higher than the Conservatives. UKIP are often described as a libertarian-lite wing of the Conservative Party, so this makes sense. Should I vote UKIP then? Not so fast...
Just because a particular party wins does not mean their policies will be implemented. As well as deciding based on policies, we also have to decide based on trust. Can we trust the parties and their leaders to stick to their words? Indeed, for many people, this is the only factor they will consider; I have seen people say they will vote Labour purely on the basis that they think Jeremy Corbyn is more likeable or trustworthy than Theresa May. Personally, I do not trust any of them at all, so this is not a factor in my decision.
Then there is the question of "tactical voting". In reality, there is no way either the LibDems or UKIP will win. The logic of first-past-the-post makes it almost impossible for any party other than the biggest two to have a chance of taking power. Some candidates of the LibDems (and other parties like the Greens) have told their voters to vote Labour so as not to split the left-wing vote and end up with a Conservative victory. The Communist Party aren't even running candidates this year; they have officially endorsed Labour. Some UKIP candidates have done similar, telling their voters to pick the Conservatives to keep Labour out. Many Brexiteers, even die-hard UKIP supporters, are saying they will vote tactically for the Conservatives to keep Brexit on track. It is sad that tactical voting happens, but it is inevitable in a first-past-the-post system and you cannot argue with the logic.
Related to the "tactical voting" debate is the issue of "safe seats". We do not vote as an entire country, but we vote district-by-district for our local MP. In some districts, the incumbent has such a large majority that there is no chance the seat will change hands. In these seats, there is no point in voting tactically.
Indeed, the chance that one vote will change the result in any district are practically zero.
So what is a libertarian to do? In my district, the Conservatives have a majority, but not so large to make it a safe seat. There is a chance that it may swing to Labour. No other party has any chance of winning it. The Libertarian Party has no candidate in my district (otherwise I would vote for them as a show of support, despite the deficiencies in their manifesto). On this basis, I am inclined to vote for the Conservatives rather than UKIP.
On the other hand, can I bring myself to vote for a party which has so many policies I disagree with? Maybe the most sensible choice is to stay home, or spoil the ballot paper - perhaps I could scrawl "taxation is theft" across the ballot paper and be done with it!
I have about 6 hours to decide what I am going to do.