David Gauke suggests cross-party action to force a General Election

Until the 2019 General Election, David Gauke had been Conservative MP for South West Hertfordshire for 14 years. One of the voices of reason on Brexit, he ended up losing the Conservative whip just before Boris Johnson’s illegal prorogation of Parliament when the opposition seized control of the parliamentary timetable to pass Hilary Benn’s Act aimed at preventing a no deal Brexit.

Like most of the country, he recognises the dangers of allowing Boris Johnson to return to Number 10 and has come up with an idea. He wants Ed Davey and Keir Starmer to invite Johnson’s opponents amongst Conservative MPs to force a General Election. In return, Labour and the Lib Dems would not oppose those Conservative MPs with majorities over 10,000 in that election if they stood as Independents against new Conservative candidates.

Mr Gauke set out his thinking in a Twitter thread:

If Boris Johnson became PM again, given the views of many Tory MPs, this is what I’d be tempted to say if I was Keir Starmer or Ed Davey: “The PM is not fit for office. Nor is the Tory Party. We know that many honourable Tory MPs feel the same way. Now is the time for all MPs who put the national interest first to come together & force a General Election. It is a lot to ask Tory MPs to do this but, because this is a national emergency, we are prepared to make a bold & generous offer. We say to those Tory MPs with majorities bigger than [10,000], who are motivated by national interest & not just saving their seat, that if they vote with us in supporting a GE, we will not stand against them in their seats if they run as independents.

This offer might just persuade a sufficient number of Conservative MPs – who cannot face being led by Johnson again – to leave the party & back a GE. The other parties might be foregoing some seats they’d win but they’d get their GE (and plenty more seats).

I get where he is coming from.   Between us, Lib Dems, Labour and Greens took over 14,900 votes in South West Herts in 2019. Gauke, standing as an Independent, was beaten by the Conservative by 14,200. We are agreed that we must have a General Election now, but Lib Dems would argue that  whoever is the Conservative leader, not just Boris.

However, I am nervous about suggesting a Westminster Bubble Stitch Up in response to the Westminster Bubble Stitch Up that would have let Boris Johnson back into No 10. I am not sure it would go down well with voters as it takes power away from them. I also think that Conservative MPs with any sense at all should vote for a General Election anyway.

We also can’t know for certain what the voters would have done if we had stood down. I don’t think we can assume that all those votes would have gone to Gauke.  It would also give the Tories a stick to beat us with that might harm both parties elsewhere. Any election has to about how the hell we get out of the mess that the Conservatives have created and nothing else. And I have no doubt that the SNP, who are as post truth as Trump and Johnson, would portray this as us working with the Tories. I mean, they are already suggesting that we are pro-Brexit when we have a much longer record of fighting it than they did.

Also, I can’t see Labour buying into this given that their constitution requires them to stand everywhere.

For me, there are fewer Conservative MPs worth saving than in 2019.  They have virtually all voted for some absolutely vile things.  I could not in all conscience give someone a free pass if they had voted to send those seeking sanctuary in our country to Rwanda. If you are bothered about people drowning in the Channel, there is a much easier and more ethical solution – safe and legal routes to claiming asylum.

I am in no doubt that the Conservatives need to go. The polls, unlike 2019, suggest that the electorate feels the same way. The political atmosphere is more of a 1997 than a 2019 and I suspect that voters will do whatever they need to do to defeat Conservative incumbents everywhere and challengers in marginals.

All political parties have limited resources. I hope that they will all be used sensibly. We could have won more seats in 2019 if Labour hadn’t campaigned heavily when we were clearly the challengers and we need to be intelligent about how we campaign.

But what do you think?



* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • As much as opposition parties naturally want a GE, if Sunak is chosen then I think a GE now is undesirable. At this point economic stability is the most important thing. Clearly a 2nd Johnson premiership doesn’t provide the political or economic stability the country needs and so the clamour for a GE will become enormous and (given the illegitimate route, ie via party members ) legitimate.

  • William Townsend 22nd Oct '22 - 11:19am

    I want an election but don’t stitch up seats in some weird deal that voters will find distasteful. Stand in every seat, spend the money on the seats we have a reasonable chance of winning. And focus on what a Liberal Democrat government would give the people, give us a positive alternative. And if we are in supply and demand territory then make sure the people know where our red lines are and don’t over promise.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Oct '22 - 11:51am

    There is a campaign to get Rees Mogg out locally, I had noticed on twitter other MPs are being targeted.
    Agreeing with you on the point we need change, there has to be a joining together to maybe achieve this end.
    We need MPs that stay away from anything that causes their position to be questioned. I feel there is not a respect in some areas for the voting public.
    It maybe useful to check other areas.

  • Mick Taylor 22nd Oct '22 - 1:15pm

    Cooperation yes, standing down no. Let voters vote tactically. It worked in 1997, it can again

  • Barry Lofty 22nd Oct '22 - 2:01pm

    We all just need a change of direction and anything that brings that about is ok with me, let’s hope the voting public realise we have been let down badly by self-serving arrogant politicians for far too long. You can only hope??

  • Peter Martin 22nd Oct '22 - 2:33pm

    I don’t follow the rationale behind the condition of “majorities over 10,000”.

    This might make sense if the MP has a large personal vote but if their vote share at the last election was Tory voters dutifully voting Tory then the bigger their majority the less chance of any defecting Tory holding their seat. There may not be enough Lib Dem and Labour votes to get them over the line especially if these voters aren’t particularly keen on voting for an Independent Conservative.

  • Jack Nicholls 22nd Oct '22 - 2:57pm

    I agree with your analysis Caron, almost word for word. Outside of very particular circumstances, like Tatton in 1997, I’m not a fan of these kinds of arrangements in formalised forms. I think it would interpreted as a stitch up, and would alienate the parts of both the left and centre-right who will vote tactically if left to do so themselves, and swing voting centrists who want stable government more than anything, and therefore would prefer to switch parties than go for an independent. I too could not countenance supporting a candidate who supported the Rwanda policy, whatever their other virtues.

    As an aside, we should be making this case against Johnson: whatever one’s view of Brexit, the covid response or populism, here is a simple truth – any MP who supports Johnson’s return is supporting someone who allowed a known risky person to be in charge of the welfare and discipline of his MPs. They should remember that before they endorse someone, because we will.

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Oct '22 - 3:01pm

    I agree with all those who express doubts about this idea of David Gauke’s and about any formal alliances. It is not our place to decide what voters should be doing – we need to spend our time and resources to get as many LD votes where they will do most good.

  • Peter Davies 22nd Oct '22 - 3:20pm

    @Peter Martin. The logic (and I don’t endorse it) is that seats with a 10,000 Tory majority are ones they wouldn’t lose without the MP standing as an independent so it would be no sacrifice for opposition parties to stand down there.

  • George Thomas 22nd Oct '22 - 4:18pm

    Push for a GE and we end up in a political vacuum during time where clear leadership is needed, don’t push for a GE and we end up with Tory party enacting austerity 2.0 when the first round has been cause of over 330,000 excess deaths. We are caught between devil and deep blue sea.

    I’m increasingly wary about how major political parties see their party membership with Tories basically cutting members out of latest vote and Starmer saying one thing to members then dropping those details when elected leader. This sort of formal agreement could be yet another example (or at least perception of) of democracy shifting away from public which has a number of risks.

    For me, there are few Conservative MPs worth saving. They have virtually all voted for some absolutely vile things.

  • Chris Moore 22nd Oct '22 - 6:55pm

    The Tory members aren’t cut out, George. If there is more than one candidate who garners 100 votes, they will have the final deceision.

  • George Thomas 22nd Oct '22 - 9:51pm

    Chris Moore, not officially cut out then, but 100+ MP’s, Monday 2pm, an indicative MP’s vote if there were just two candidates was all chosen for a reason and I just don’t see more than one MP getting to that figure. Several newspapers are openly trying to dissuade Boris’ potential supporters and Penny Mourdant 105 MP’s behind Sunak so no doubt will be offered high profile position to stand down. With Kemi Badenoch declining the chance, it’s almost definitely Rishi Sunak and Tory members don’t have a say*.

    *apart from phoning up radio shows to say he’s not British because he’s brown. I’m not convinced I want Tory members to have a say for this reason but can see the risk in making those not employed by a political party so peripheral.

    Rishi Sunak who, alongside Hunt, will push for austerity. His main selling point appears to be an understanding of the economy but has made several big mistakes already in such a short career as Chancellor. I wonder who is going to first to point that out in a way that lands?

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Oct '22 - 9:35am

    “[Labour’s] constitution requires them to stand everywhere.” I wish people wouldn’t keep repeating this canard. It’s not true. Labour doesn’t stand against the Speaker. It didn’t stand in Tatton in 1997, instead supporting Martin Bell. It also didn’t stand in the Southend West fake by-election earlier this year, nor in the equally phoney Haltemprice & Howden by-election of 2008 (and also as far as I know didn’t recommend anyone to vote for in either). Labour can stand aside in individual Parliamentary contests if it wants to. Whether it would be a good idea is another matter.

  • The Johnson revised Fixed Term Parliament Act 2022 removed Parliaments’ role in determining when a GE can take place, so I’m unsure how MP’s can really force change through until such time as sufficient Tory MP’s gain the confidence to break their party shackles and put national interest before party interest…

  • Though I agree that the country needs a GE, I’m not sure I want it at the expense of annihilating the Lib Dems. I’d prefer the steam to be taken off Labour’s poll rating so we have a chance of winning more seats and increasing our percentage vote. The Chester by-election will give us a feel for the present mood of the electorate.

  • Jenny Barnes 24th Oct '22 - 2:35pm

    I don’t think labour’s big poll lead will mean annihilation for LDs. There are plenty of seats (I live in one) where non-Tory parties cooperate, and the LD vote is well above Labour’s. If a voter wants rid of the tories, then they whould tactically vote for us. Equally, if they are basically conservative, but find the last few years of Johnson & Truss deserve the Tories losing the vote, an LD vote is less of mental challenge. Send out the bar charts!

  • Gauke seems like a very decent bloke and had i lived in S.W. Herts I would have voted for him (yes, I’ve just done an Alistair Campbell), but the party system means that we each vote for “one of our own” even if the other lot have got a clearly better candidate.
    I pray nightly that the Tory party will split into (at least) two, that the nationalists and libertarians (not the same people, I realise) will form their own party and leave the centre ground to the Gaukes, Stewarts and Boles of this world. Not necessarily good for the Lib Dems, but good for the country.

  • Neil James Sandison 28th Oct '22 - 2:52pm

    Unfortunately, Caron every time we have come into close proximity with the Conservative party in our history the Liberal and Liberal Democrats have come off worse and got hammered at subsequent polls. no more pacts, deals or coalitions with the Tories it does not work.

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