Why I’m voting tactically in the general election

Teacher John Boken, 43, is one of millions of registered voters who is preparing to cast his vote for a party that is not his top preference

As part of its election coverage, Yahoo News is speaking to voters around the country on the issues that will sway their vote. Read more from our election 'Your Voice' series here as we get closer to polling day on 4 July.

John Boken is preparing to vote for a party that isn't his first choice. (image supplied)
John Boken is preparing to vote for a party that isn't his first choice. (image supplied)

In this election, the choices made by tactical voters are likely to prove critical to Labour’s predicted success. John Boken, a 43-year-old secondary school teacher based in Oswestry, is one of millions of registered voters who is preparing to cast his vote for a party that is not his top preference.

Boken, a father-of-three, says if he lived elsewhere he would likely vote for Labour or another left-wing candidate but in his own constituency the only way to keep the Conservative candidate out is to lend his vote to the Liberal Democrats. In the seat of Shropshire North, Liberal Democrat MP Helen Morgan has a slim majority of just under 6,000 and Boken will cast his ballot to reelect her.

“It’s a straightforward answer for me because we’ve got a decent MP. I wouldn’t say I’m a Lib Dem voter but if it means keeping a Conservative out that’s how I’ll vote. And she responds to people in the area. My wife has written to her in the past and she’s replied. She’s been in favour of more money being put into education.”

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As a school teacher, education is the issue that matters most to Boken in this election. He is scathing about the impact that former education secretary Michael Gove’s curriculum reforms have had on teachers and the health and wellbeing of their pupils. In his own discipline, he’s seen a large number of young women drop the subject of computing when it used to be a more gender-balanced subject.

“It had a big impact on our demographic,” he says. “We had a good mix of boys and girls and then the subject changed, it became for coders, and it became predominantly boys and we live in a society that sees that as a male job role, even though it really shouldn’t be. But before girls were enjoying IT and would take it to a next step and would study it as a degree. From a curriculum perspective, that was the shockwave, and it was horrible.”

He is also concerned about the narrow focus on core subjects such as mathematics, science and English at the expense of the creative arts and other disciplines. “Kids need a broad range. They need to play with art, to get into drama, to try IT and enjoy PE. Those are important. Now we’re saying all kids should have the same avenue. What about choices? We’re not making school enjoyable for them. It’s results driven and it stresses people out.”

Boken believes this change in curriculum is behind some of the broader issues facing education in the wake of the pandemic, such as the rise in school refusal, and believes a new government needs an urgent rethink of the way our children are taught. Testing is not a useful way to measure a child’s attainment in an age when we have immediate access to any information we need, he says. “The work is moving. It’s all about comprehension. Students can use AI.”

But though he is keen to remove the Conservatives from office, Boken is not enthused by Keir Starmer’s Labour Party. He feels let down by the numerous policy U-turns the leader has made in recent years including on issues such as spending £28bn on a green energy programme. He doesn’t trust him to deliver on his promises as prime minister. “I think people are sick of it. I think politicians need to be honest and stop trying to spin themselves out of it. Trust means no more spin and no more avoiding serious questions.”

For Boken, the most immediate questions that will be asked of Starmer as prime minister are about the cost of living and the way local authorities, as he puts it, have been starved of the funding they need to deliver public services. “Our local authority is massively in debt and they need more money to do the jobs they do,” he says. “There’s too much push to get things outsourced. We say we should do things for British people and yet they [the government] are still happy to hire external companies from outside the UK and pay third party businesses a huge amount of money from the local authority.”

It’s a process he also sees at play in the NHS and is concerned about. His local hospital, Shrewsbury and Telford, was embroiled in a major maternity care scandal five years ago which has left a damaging mark on the local community. “When you have children you just think, ‘that could have been us’,” he remarks.

When it comes to foreign policy, Boken says agrees with Britain’s support for Ukraine in the conflict against Russia but doesn’t believe UK taxpayers really think about what funding arms for Ukraine this means in real terms: “your money is being spent on killing people.”

As for the prospect of a positive campaign and first term in government, Boken believes that many of Starmer’s pledges are “just warm words”. “He’s being funded by business, to fund is campaign, so he’s going to make certain promises to them. If you’ve got a party donor who doesn’t want to get rid of fire-and-rehire employment policies then what are you going to do? He needs the money.”

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