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Tactical voting helped rescue Britain in 1997. We can do it again | Will Hutton

A hung parliament represents our best chance of halting Britain’s steep decline

The British electoral system is both cruel and crude. In a winner-takes-all, first-past-the-post setup, many votes are wasted, the main parties are overrepresented in the House of Commons and if people want to make a difference, they often have to ignore their first preference and vote tactically for their second. It’s a third-rate system, but it’s the one we have.

Twenty two years ago, when I edited the Observer, we published polls in 20 key constituencies on the Sunday before the 1997 general election, urging voters to put aside their first preference and vote tactically for the most likely challenger to the incumbent Conservative party. Our work did make a difference, triggering the Michael Portillo moment, for example, when one of the leading Eurosceptics lost his ultra-safe seat as Lib Dem voters set aside their first preference because of the evidence that Labour was the challenger.

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