Britain’s political terrain is shifting. Neither of the two main parties can be sure of gaining enough support to win the general election outright.
This continues a long term disintegration of their membership and support.
Once most people voted Labour or Tory. But many have had enough of them serving the rich elite instead of the majority.
Many people don’t even bother voting. Others debate how to be “tactical” and get the least bad option.
The main parties’ paralysis has created space for something else to grow.
For an unnerving number of people, that means buying into Ukip’s racism and blaming migrants for the economic crisis.
But there is also a surge towards more progressive arguments. This is clearest in Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has quadrupled its membership in just six months.
It now poses as the vehicle for the movement that demanded social justice and an end to austerity during last year’s independence referendum.
The referendum politicised huge swathes of society. For once people felt they had something to vote for.
That mood hasn’t gone away and it isn’t limited to Scotland.
To a much lesser extent the Greens in England and Plaid Cymru in Wales are benefitting from it too. Their inclusion in the TV leaders’ debates helped boost the idea of an alternative to the austerity consensus.
Socialists should take advantage of this. It creates a terrain for our arguments when people aren’t all looking in the same direction.
Many people view a tactical vote for these parties as a way to pull the debate to the left. But some of the dangers of this were made clear in 2010.
Thousands “agreed with Nick” Clegg rather than back Labour or the Tories again. But instead of a real alternative they got five years of broken promises and Tory-led austerity.
The SNP, Plaid and Greens are all pitching well to the left of Labour. And it turns out it’s popular to oppose cuts and avoid racist scapegoating.
But the generalised anger they tap into demands more than the milder austerity they can deliver.
Our rulers realise this. Last year’s referendum gave them a fright, and they worry that the mood could go further.
Unfortunately the left is too weak and fragmented to have been the main beneficiaries. Some wonder if that means votes are wasted on a left alternative, as it has far less chance of winning MPs than other parties.
But this is a circular argument. If we’re too weak to win then we’re certainly too weak to be sending votes to other forces.
It will make a difference on 8 May whether it’s David Cameron or Ed Miliband forming a government. But it also matters how big a vote the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) and other left parties can garner.
It can raise wider arguments about capitalism, and boost workers’ confidence to fight back.
The working class deserves better than what is on offer. Many tactical voters agree.
Wouldn’t it better to vote for what we want than get another version of what we don’t?
Elections aren’t everything. But we should use them to strengthen our side and weaken theirs—not the other way around.