Will tactical voting wipe out the Tories in UK general election?

Britain's Conservative Party all but conceded defeat to Labour on Wednesday, a day ahead of the UK general election. But tactical voting could wipe the party off the political map altogether.

On Thursday, voters across the UK cast their ballots to decide who will form the next government and become prime minister. Polling data suggests that the ruling Conservatives may be heading for their worst election result ever, paving the way for Keir Starmer's Labour Party to take control. ​ 

In France’s snap election, centrist and leftist parties are teaming up to block the far right from winning a majority and are calling on the French to vote for the candidate who is most likely to beat the far-right opponent. In the UK, too, tactical voting is gaining ground. Several websites are encouraging people to vote across party lines in key constituencies to "stop the Tories". 

First past the post

An Ipsos poll showed that nearly one in five voters is planning to vote with the intention of keeping another party out, rather than voting their preferred party in. That is more than in any other general election campaign on record. The political impact of this tactical voting, especially in Europe’s only "first past the post" system, cannot be overlooked.

In the UK, all 650 members of the House of Commons are elected in a single round of voting during the general election. The candidates who finish top in their constituency become MP, even if they don’t get 50 per cent of the vote. In such a "winner takes it all" system, tactical voting means that voters can seriously damage parties. A series of by-elections since 2019 has shown the effectiveness of tactical voting.

If tactical voting succeeds this time, the Tories will likely take solid hits. The party has dominated the country for 14 years but, according to many, failed to deliver on promises made during that period. Many Britons have also not forgotten the last five years of turmoil, marked by a sluggish economy, deteriorating public services and a series of scandals. 

In any case, Labour seems headed for a big win on Thursday. That fact could get in the way of tactical voting, though: if voters think a local Labour candidate can beat a Tory candidate, they might be less likely to choose tactically. 


Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak © PHOTO JEFF OVERS / BBC / AFP

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