The European Elections: Tactical Voting Principles


This is the fourth in the series of posts on the European Parliament elections. The first discussed PR voting systems. The second was a guide to the European Parliament. The third a description of the current state of play and the UK parties.

The party positions were discussed in the 3rd EP post, but there has been some further clarity in the Labour position after their EP Election Launch. It seems clear that Labour remains a Brexit supporting party and any commitment to a People’s Vote has been kicked down the road again. Even if many individual candidates are pro-EU there has been no change in Labour’s position and I can’t recommend voting for them.

This post will look into the principles of tactical voting in the EP elections. This is an ethical minefield with conflicting goals; not all mutually compatible.

The UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, uses the D’Hondt form of Proportional Representation. Northern Ireland (NI) uses the far superior Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. Both are discussed in detail in the fist in the EP series.

In all constituencies there are normally safe seats; seats the major parties historically have had a virtual certainty of winning; it is the last seat, or last few seats in the larger constituencies, which are most likely to change hands.

This election could be dramatically different. The Tories almost certainly will have an apocalyptic night; hemorrhaging votes to the Brexit Party on the right and to TIG-CUK on the left. UKIP is likely to be decimated, with many of their voters choosing the marginally less toxic Brexit Party. The Labour Party will lose some right-wing voters to the Brexit Party, but a far greater number on the left to the remain parties and may have a dreadful night. The Lib Dems and Greens, buoyed by their excellent Local Election results, will be hoping to make dramatic gains.  TIG-CUK will be hoping for some electoral success. The SNP, riding high in the polls, are set to gain a 3rd seat, or possibly even a 4th, in Scotland, if they have a really good night. The Brexit Party bizarrely seems set to do well.

In NI it is simple. Because of STV, you just need to vote 1 2 3 etc. in the order of your choice for pro EU-candidates. In NI the Sinn Féin and  DUP seats are “safe”; it is the third pro-Brexit UUP seat that may change hands.  For me a fantastic result would be for either Naomi Long (Alliance) or Colum Eastwood (SDLP) to take the third seat. SDLP voters simply have to choose Alliance as their second preference and visa versa. Green, and other pro-EU, voters should choose Alliance and SDLP as 2nd and 3rd preference in the order of their choice.

In the rest of the UK it is far more difficult. There is only one vote; for a party list or independent candidate.  The D’Hondt system is very unforgiving to parties (or independents) who get less than about 12% of the vote. In  the 2014 election the average percentage of the vote needed to win the last seat was 11.91%. The percentage needed by the last candidate to be elected in the last EP election is shown in Table 1. This depends on a number of factors, by far the most important being constituency size, but there are other factors. In the constituency with fewest seats (three), North East, Paul Brannen was elected with 18.25% of the vote. In the constituency with the greatest number of seats (ten), South East, only 8% of the vote was needed to capture the last seat.

Table 1. Vote (%) needed to win the last seat by constituency


Another important point is that this is an election and not a referendum. As Prof Phil Sypris argues in this powerful thread:

The elections are not, and cannot be, a proxy for a second referendum. That is because there is (still) no concrete version of leave which ‘Brexit parties’ unite in espousing, and no agreed path towards remain upon which ‘remain parties’ agree.

I’m hoping for clearer signals from the various parties, and closer interrogation of their positions in the media. Let’s hope that we begin to see some of that.

There is further discussion of this thread on Episode 50 of CakeWatch about 41m and 30s in. Absolutely let’s hope for clearer signals, but as the Brexit party  is deliberately keeping its agenda secret, the Tories pretending the election isn’t happening and Labour triangulating and  obfuscating, I am not hopeful.

Tactical voting requires considerable thought and a one size fits all approach is not going to work. A crude approach saying that every Progressive in England should vote Lib Dem, as suggested by for example Gina Miller, while mathematically correct, is off-putting to Green and TIG-CUK supporters.

There are a number of tactical voting sites: and RemainVoter which are is worth keeping an eye on. There is also a very useful excel D’Hondt calculator by Richard Barfielid of the excellent Brexit FactBase available here.

The pro-EU parties are listed in detail in the third of the EP election series, but in brief they are the Lib Dems, the Greens and TIG-CUK. In addition in Scotland the SNP and in Wales Plaid Cymru.

Because of the complexity of the situation it is important to list your goals in order of importance. I suspect the goals of most progressives will be similar but ranked differently.


Here are my goals in rough numerical order. This is a highly personal viewpoint and I recommend readers to make their own. I am a member of the Green Party which will influence my personal choice.

  1. To maxamise Progressive turnout -VOTE! and encourage all other Progressives to VOTE! Particularly young people and EU citizens.
  2. Even though Brexit is a clear and present danger, the biggest threat facing humanity is Climate Change.  Support a party that takes climate change seriously.
  3. To get as many pro EU MEPs Elected as possible.
  4. To get as many progressive MPs Elected as possible.
  5. To force Labour off the fence and represent the 48% – now more like the 60%.
  6. To get as few far-Right MEPs elected as possible.
  7. To  vote in a European Context rather than a narrow UK one
  8. To ensure continuity – rerunning  progressive MEPs should be prioritised.
  9. To ensure balance and cooperation – getting away from the winner takes all mentality all too evident in UK politics.

Goal 1 turnout: should be non controversial. The turnout in Britain for EP 2014 was a derisory 35.6%. Low turnouts mean that crank and fringe parties can do well. It is vital that young people and EU citizens who were unable to vote in the referendum turn out in high numbers. There are over 2M new voters and c 3M EU citizens who can vote this time around. These are overwhelmingly likely to support pro-EU parties. Don’t give up hope. Even if the Brexit party is riding high in the polls, the result may be a similar pleasant surprise as the 2017 GE. Any vote for a ‘remain’ party is not wasted. Even if the party voted for is not elected it counts towards shifting polls, public opinion and hopefully the Overton Window.

Goal 2 Climate change: This is the existential challenge of our time and needs to be forced up the political agenda. There is no question the Green Party has prioritised this for longest. Other progressive parties are catching up. For me the recent focus on climate change by Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thurnberg and David Attenborough have been very powerful. On the opposite side of the coin the Brexit Party and the DUP are climate change denial parties. I am a Green party member who will vote Green unless there is a very persuasive argument to do otherwise.

Goal 3 pro-EU MEPs: should also be non-controversial. Sadly because of Labour’s fence sitting stance it is not. Many if not all, of the sitting Labour MEPs are pro-EU. Sadly the party is controlled by a very tight group around Corbyn, who are anti-EU. My own position is that it is with deep regret that I can’t vote labour.

Goal 4 Progressive MEPs: The Lib Dems seem to have backed away from their Orange Book tendencies under Nick Clegg and have moved in a more progressive direction. It is too early to know the progressive credential of TIG-CUK, but I am prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt. The Greens are most definitely progressive. For the purpose of the EP elections I don’t think there is any real conflict between goal 3 and goal 4. It is possible however that TIG-CUK will align itself with the EPP and turn out to be a centre right party in the style of the One Nation Tories or the Irish Fine Gael party.

Goal 5 Labour fence sitting: This is deeply regrettable. Maybe fence-sitting is too kind. They are a pro-Brexit party, but hope remains that they can at least be nudged towards a People’s Vote.The only thing however likely to change Corbyn’s mind on a 2nd referendum is a disastrous election night. I can’t in all conscience vote Labour, but will vote for a pro-EU party.

Goal 6 Far Right MEPs: Because of the Labour stance this is difficult. In many cases the most likely way of keeping out a far right MEP (Brexit Party and UKIP) is voting Labour. Indeed Labour know this and are using this as a tactic to strong-arm people towards voting Labour. To me this is tantamount to blackmail, and as stated earlier I can’t vote for them. This is with immense regret as the two NE Labour MEPs are excellent and as indeed are many others such as Seb Dance and Richard Corbett.

Goal 7 be a European: If the reputation of the UK in Europe is not mud, we should be very grateful. We need thinking in a wider European context. Not only is your vote going towards the European Parliament, it will determine who is the next European Commission President. The  EP chooses the president through a process described in detail in the 2nd of the EP series.   The EP and commission have been right leaning since 2000, as progressives, we need to make it more left leaning.

Goal 8 Continuity: If there is an existing pro-EU progressive MEP sitting in your constituency vote for them. There are three Greens, two of whom are fairly vulnerable: Jenny Lambert (London) and Molly Scott Cato (SW). There is one Lib Dem, Catherine Bearder.  There are two SNP (Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith) MEPs and one Plaid Cymru MEP (Jill Evans).

Goal 9 balance: I find tactical advice such as that everyone in England vote Lib Dem deeply annoying.  There are many excellent Green and TIG-CUK candidates. I think the fair way to do this is to set up a proxy voting system. I am a Green Party member and will vote Green, but may be prepared to have a proxy swap with a partner in another constituency. If for example in another constituency where a Green is more likely to be elected, a Lib Dem voter would vote green in my place and I would vote Lib Dem in the NE. In larger constituencies it may be possible to elect a number of pro-EU parties.


I want to do everything in my power to stop Brexit and voting is one of the few ways my opinion may count. VOTE!

The Brexit Party seems to be riding high in the polls and to be supported by a large tranche of the right-wing press  and increasingly by the BBC who have its leader on at every possible opportunity (and largely unchallenged). My view is that he should be in prison for inciting racial hatred or at the very least banned from the BBC.

Don’t vote Labour – this will be taken as a vote supporting Brexit. This is a decision made with considerable pain as there are many excellent Labour MEPs.

Vote for a remain party.

If a proxy voting system is to be used it is important to build trust between the three pro-EU parties in England and their supporters.

If you choose to vote tactically, keep a close eye on the opinion polls which may well change – and remember opinion polls can be wrong.




  1. Bill Hughes -

    Voting Green is the obvious choice as all the Liberal EU policy is bollocks to Brexit (do we need primary school toilet graffiti artists to represent us?) and no other policies and TIG-CUK has ex Tory members in it, the reverse of progressive politics. As you rightly say climate change is the most presing issue of our time and the so called “main” parties are skirting round the issue,refusing to grasp the nettle despite overwhelming scientific opinions and solutions and massive public concern.

    1. Sean Danaher -

      As a Green party member I can’t disagree.

      I had lunch with Rachael Featherstone (lead NE candidate) and Jonathan Bartley (co chair) last week and they were very annoyed with the Lib Dems. They were adamant that despite the Lib Dems saying that they had approached the Greens to explore some form of joint strategy, this never happened and said it was a downright lie.

      You may well be right regarding TIG-CUK. the Tory party has always been a coalition of business minded “One Nation Tories” and far-right English Nationalists. It looks sadly as if the far-right are set to take over the party.

      This will leave a vacuum in the centre right which TIG-CUK may well fill.

      1. Kevin O'Connell -

        More complicated for me. I live in France and so can vote either in UK (for another 2 years until the 15 year rule kicks in) or in France (not both, don’t know the law in UK, but here it’s up to 2 years ‘inside’ for voting both). I want to vote here (which I have always done since moving here), but is a tactical vote in the UK more ‘valuable’? Decisions, decisions …

      2. Peter May -

        For Kevin
        I would have thought that on this occasion a tactical UK vote is more valuable in the UK than a French vote, where the most valuable vote would be to support someone proposing to leave the Euro – which I’m not aware that France has anyone proposing this – yet?
        For Sean
        I too shall in theory be voting Green especially because the Green MEP is actually one of the best of any party (Molly Scott-Cato) and treats her task seriously and as European. But in the end, as she was the last MEP chosen in the SW constituency I suppose I have to keep a look out for the advice from the ‘Remain’ website. Though I think they’d have to convince me that she was now a hopeless case to change!

      3. Kevin O'Connell -

        None of the parties in France (not even Marine’s RN or Dupont-Aignan’s Debout) are talking Frexit or Frexeuro (& I would never vote for either of them or a party supporting those objectives). I have decided that I will vote for the future (i.e. here in France).

  2. Geoff -

    Thanks for the analysis, hard to disagree with. I’m a life long LP supporter and was active in getting Corbyn elected but I have become completely disillusioned by both his and the labour party handling of brexit. I resigned from the party the day after Corbyn urged May to action Article 50. My position remains the same.

    As I understand it, the Lib Dems have struck a deal with the Tories and UKIP in Bolton to oust the LP. How does that make any sense, they are running on an anti-brexit ticket.

    Regarding your Gina Miller comment, I think the current blanket Lib Dem graphic for England is nothing more than a starting point, at least I hope so! As more “voter intention” information becomes available I think the map will change. Like you Sean, I was really annoyed by it, it was irresponsible of her to begin in that way.
    We have Tommy Robinson standing in the North West

    1. Sean Danaher -

      thanks. I found it a very useful exercise to get my thoughts in order. As I’ve said before I left the Labour party after the Iraq war but rejoined. Its a pity about Corbyn. I like many of his ideas, which would be considered very mainstream in Scandinavia, but I am really fearful leaving the EU will lead to some form of right-wing populist state and England could spiral down very rapidly.

      Yaxley Lennon in the NW is troubling but I don’t think he is going down too well. I’m far more worried about Farage and his ability to tap into English Ethno-Nationalist “patriotism” – a very dangerous tiger to ride.

  3. George S Gordon -

    Small point: The SNP’s longest serving MEP, first elected in 1998, Ian Hudghton is not standing again, and is looking forward to his retirement (and continuing to campaign for Scottish independence).

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