All politics is, to some extent, tactical. It would be nice to think campaigns could be run, elections could be won and things got done on the basis of ideology alone.
But as Nick Clegg could probably point out, power invariably involves settling.
America goes to the polls this week, to choose a third of its senators and all of its congressmen. Two years after Barack “the Messiah” Obama swept into the White House, the Democrats are set for major losses and a likely return to a Republican majority in the House.
This is not actually as bad as it seems; it’s astonishingly rare for the incumbent party to come out of the mid-terms with more seats than they had (when Clinton did in 1998 it was the exception, and more a reaction against Republican machinations than the start of a new political tradition). Still, it’s not great that the Democrats are going to go kaput, especially when you consider that a good number of losses are likely to be at the hands of Tea Party loyalists like Christine the not-so-teenage-witch O ‘Donnell.
Still, given the polls and predictions, it’s surprising to see that efforts to secure a non Tea Party outcome in Florida have failed so miserably – and even more so that a Democrat is the one responsible.
The situation is this; Until a year or so, Governor Charlie Crist was something of a golden boy in the Republican, even tipped as a potential 2012 contender. But his support of such abomination as the stimulus, plus an Obama shaped hug, led to a challenge from the right by Tea Party king Marco Rubio and Crist striking out as an independent.
Mr Rubio is an unreconstructed right-winger, fond of soundbites like this one: “The problem is that when government controls the economy, those who can influence government keep winning, and everybody else just stays the same.”
Of course, there’s still a Democrat hoping to steal the crown, the wonderfully American named Kendrick Meek (can you imagine, President Meek…it’s like a bad spoof film). Meek is drawing about 15 per cent in the polls, Crist around 35 per cent and spades ahead is Rubio, with 42 per cent.
So the choice is this – moderate voters can go for a Democrat with very little chance, or an independent with not much more. Whether the former or the latter, the likelihood is that Mr Rubio will be off to the Senate.
Unless, of course, tactical voting comes into it. I’m no mathematician, but the combined moderate vote is more than a match for the Tea Party support. Surely, it would make sense for one of Mr Crist or Mr Meek to step aside so that, in Chuchillian terms, the best-worst candidate can prevail.
Makes sense, right? Good tactics? Bill Clinton certainly thought so, which is why he tried to broker a deal to get the undeniably weaker of the two, Meek, to do the gentlemanly thing and depart the race. Allegedly there were promises of a good DC job for Meek in return for giving up on a dream that has no chance of being realised anyway.
But while politics is about tactics, politicians are often more about ego. Ergo, Meek refused. Meek, indeed.
Madness. Meek must know that by refusing a deal he boosts Rubio immeasurably, when having Crist in the seat would do far more to prevent the Republicans blocking Obama’s legislative programme in the next two years.
Maybe two years ago, in the giddy rush of “Yes we can”, principle could come first. But Obama’s approval ratings are plummeting, and the prognosis for the next two years isn’t good. What a shame Meek couldn’t act tactically, just this once.
Not that I’m suggesting he should have actively campaigned for his opponent. Supporting another party above your own. That would be absurd, certainly not acceptable behaviour for, say, Labour’s mayoral candidate for 2012.
Oh, but wait. Apparently that’s exactly the sort of behaviour one can expect from Ken Livingstone, who was spotted on the stump for new Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman last week – despite the presence of one Helal Abbas, Labour’s candidate.
Yes, politicians should be pragmatic and tactical. But while Mr Meek doing the gracious thing would have had a purpose, Livingstone’s support of a Respect-backed politician had no such point.
It’s ironic to think, then, that tactical “anyone but Ken” voting was so key in Boris’ victory last time.