Time for an electoral pact with Labour

So the Tories have won again, no surprise there then, they usually do under our grossly unfair electoral system. The question is what do we do about it if we don’t want to see the Conservatives win power more often than not in the future.

Having a split opposition composed of centre left parties standing in every constituency against a right wing one is a recipe for further disasters. If we look at history we will see that on the majority of occasions when the Tories have been kept out of power have either been when there has been one dominant centre left party or when there has been some kind of electoral arrangement.

It was the Liberal Party back in the early part of the last century that recognised that the emerging Labour Party was going to damage its electoral prospects if something wasn’t done. What followed was a deal where in certain constituencies there was only a Labour or Liberal candidate facing the Tory not both.

Of course over time Labour supplanted us as the main opposition and the first Labour government only happened due to Liberal support in the commons. During that brief administration serious discussions were held regarding a change to a proportional voting system for Westminster elections. It is a tragedy that they failed.

It is no coincidence that the period of Labour’s high tide also coincided with the nadir of British Liberalism. Since 1974 Liberals have once again been a significant force in our nations politics and the Tories have benefited.

Now a lot of regular readers of Lib Dem Voice will know that I am a former Labour activist but they will also know that I have no love for the ‘peoples party’ – quite the opposite. So my plea for a serious look at the idea of what could be a limited electoral pact with the comrades is based on realpolitik not ideology. There are constituencies which are Tory/Lib Dem marginals where the presence of a Labour candidate costs us victory. Conversely there are Tory/Labour marginals where if we withdrew it would help them.

“Aaah, but it would lose us centre right voters”, I hear you shout. Well, it might cost us a few but I say our future lies in being an unashamed radical liberal party firmly on the centre left. We tried the alternative a few years back and look where that got us. The other response I anticipate is that Labour are to tribal and won’t go for it. Yes, that is a potential hurdle but it shouldn’t stop us making the proposal, particularly given they will will have a new leader soon.

Lib/Labism has worked before, there is no reason why it can’t work again.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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72 Comments

  • Sandra Hammett 17th Dec '19 - 10:25am

    Labour will choose a Corbyn-lite candidate as successor, held to ransom by Momentum and the unions, and inevitably fail to clear anti-Semitism from the party. The fact Corbyn hasn’t resigned proves he’s staying put to ensure a legacy candidate.
    Then in the event of an election they will attempt to squeeze us with sheer numbers. But it will be for nothing because they won’t win.
    A pact is a baaad idea.

  • Laurence Cox 17th Dec '19 - 10:44am

    Sandra,

    Agreed. It was only under Tony Blair that we could consider a closer relationship with Labour and that gave us the benefits of having far more MPs without having to compromise our beliefs. Until, Labour see the light and move back to their moderate-Left position under Blair, there can be no agreement with them. For those who want to demonise him over Iraq, let’s remember what he also did:

    ‘Blair delivered peace in Northern Ireland, justice in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, devolved government in Wales and Scotland, the minimum wage, civil partnerships for gay people, unprecedented improvements in education and the NHS, hugely improved support for people on benefits, and general increases in disposable income and living standards. Oh, and the Supreme Court which has just recently been active in curtailing the unlawful actions of a right wing government and protecting our rights and “constitution”.’

  • Gwyn Williams 17th Dec '19 - 10:51am

    Living in Wales, where Labour is still the dominant party as it has been for the last century, I fail to see any partisan reason for saddling ourselves with a Party of permanent Government. Kirsty Williams’ success as Education Secretary in the Welsh Labour Government has been more to do with a fresh and different approach rather than trying to specifically implement a Liberal programme. The reason that you do not know about Kirsty’s success is the weak Welsh media combined with a complete lack of interest in the London based UK media. Or Federal party for that matter.

  • James Baillie 17th Dec '19 - 10:51am

    The main reason a pact is a non-starter is that Labour will never agree to one, ever, no matter how many times the lack of it loses them elections. I agree that we need to reaffirm our centre-left radical credentials, especially after losing so many centre-left votes during the campaign due to a strategy that soft-pedalled any actually interesting policy in favour of wobbly centrism. But for electoral pacts with Labour to happen, Labour needs to shift its position, and I don’t see where that shift comes from.

  • I’m up for an electoral pact with Labour, provided that it is strategic in nature (both/all parties doing combined polling, and then selecting which seats should be stood down in), and that a successful election is followed _immediately_ by a change to Proportional Representation at Westminster as the first thing passed.

  • Completely disagree. As Churchill put it during his Dundee election campaign:

    “Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not only a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle. There are many steps we have to take which our Socialist opponents or friends, whichever they like to call themselves, will have to take with us; but there are immense differences of principle and of political philosophy between our views and their views.

    Liberalism has its own history and its own tradition. Socialism has its own formulas and aims. Socialism seeks to pull down wealth; Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely, by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference. Socialism assails the pre-eminence of the individual; Liberalism seeks, and shall seek more in the future, to build up a minimum standard for the mass. Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.”

    And as Jo Grimond put it in the 1959 manifesto:

    “You will get a Tory or Socialist Government after this Election, but the kind of Tory or Socialist Government you get will depend on the strength of Liberalism in the House of Commons and the strength of the Liberal vote in the country.

    The House of Commons should be a strong influence on the Government. That is what it is for. Lately it has been far too much under the thumb of the Party machines and we must have more Liberals to save us from Tory or Labour reactionaries.

    If the House of Commons is to be truly representative we must breathe new life into it to make it what you and I want. This has not been happening. First, most of the issues today are not between Conservatives and Socialists but between Liberals and the Government, whether it be Conservative or Socialist.”

    Labour have proved time and again not to be our friends in elections. Since we do likely now have five years till the next election, the better strategy would be to start now, publicising and persuading people about liberal ideals and priorities and being in a better place to stand as proud liberals, not Labour hangers on, at the next election.

  • Graham Evans 17th Dec '19 - 10:56am

    The big lesson of the past is that the Liberal Democrats prosper when they and Labour have leaders who share a common vision, not merely a common enemy. This was the case with Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown in 1997; it was not with Corbyn and Swinson last week. Artificially constructed pacts don’t cut the mustard.

  • Richard Easter 17th Dec '19 - 11:14am

    I welcome a pact. The parties need to agree 5 or 6 key policies that both can support.

    E.g.

    1) Green New Deal.
    2) Scrap Atos and DWP WCA.
    3) Proportional Representation.
    4) Renationalise the Railways.
    5) 1p on income tax for the NHS.
    6) Recruit 30,000 more police.

    These are a mixture of Green, Labour and Liberal Policies which are all moderate in nature and enjoy broad support amongst the bulk of voters. Not many people are going to be turned off by any of them.

    Six is something that could appeal to socially conservative voters too, and would not undermine left wing or liberal values either.

    Be clear on where we stand. Simple and popular policies.

  • Living in an area that has been systematically run down by our Labour Council for the best part of the last 35 years, I am not a fan of Labour. But now is not the time for tribality. If PR is on the table then I’m all for an electoral pact. If PR gets implemented (with no referendum) then we don’t need any more pacts or tactical voting.

  • Helen Parker 17th Dec '19 - 12:01pm

    I understand the caution expressed above about a formal pact, but think that as James says, what is far more difficult is getting a commitment to electoral reform from Labour – even though there seems to be a great deal of support for PR from their membership, with LCER reporting increased interest after the election, individual candidates often seem reluctant to declare themselves in favour. If they elect a new leader who is pro-electoral reform and is prepared to take active steps towards change, I think that would help. We should think about how to press for this – does anyone have ideas, other than each of us raising it with people in the Labour party we know personally? I think it’s also worth remembering – and reminding them! – that Labour are the only ones who have actually managed to get anything done about electoral reform – they changed the system for those nice fair Euro elections we won’t be voting in again for a while now, and they avoided FPTP for anything new they were introducing (Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, mayoral elections) .

  • There is good sense in this idea – however, as we al know it will be politically difficult.
    I agree we should be clearly a party of the centre left (to use simplistic shorthand) that is clearly seen as being anti-establishment and challenging inequality. That is the broad approach that has been the basis of our success in the past. If we can emphasise that approach we may stand a better chance of both doing well and having a proper discussion with Labour. However, Labour need to e able to see that there is something in it for them.
    However, many in Labour are deeply tribal and will never forgive us for going into coalition with the Tories. Is there a possibility of a new leader who will talk to us based around a basic common set of policies eg ending austerity, investing in public services and infrastructure – properly costed of course – plus constitutional reform?
    A report today that 3/4 of Labour members are in favour of PR (need a discussion about whether that extends to STV, but if the rest of UK and Ireland can operate it, surely the English can?). Part of any deal with Labour should be a commitment to introduce STV for all parliamentary and council elections across the whole UK. The way we do democracy is fundamental to running things better. It is in the interests of both Labour and ourselves (and others) to break the political logjam of FPTP.
    After the war the UK wrote a new constitution for Germany. It works well. We should look seriously at re-importing the principles to the UK.

  • Let’s wait and see who the new LD and Labour leaders are before being too prescriptive. Given a following wind it would make absolute sense to me for us to fight only in seats we hold, or where we came second to the Tories and to stand down in seats which Labour hold or where they came second to the Tories. That would allow us to concentrate our limited resources in winnable seats and would allow us to begin to rebuild our presence in the Commons. There’s also be a good chance that the Tory majority could be reduced significantly, even wiped-out.

    If we continue with ‘business as usual’, what happened last week will likely happen again in 5 years time or so. And then these posts will appear again.

  • Christopher Curtis 17th Dec '19 - 12:11pm

    Can’t help thinking this is cart before the horse.
    When we have re-clarified and redefined our political agenda and priorities, and Labour has done the same, there might be enough common ground to discuss and possibly agree co-operation in elections and in Parliament.
    Right now, we couldn’t possibly co-operate with Corbynism and it might well be that the Labour party persists with that agenda.
    Just because we rightly want to oppose Johnson’s Tories, doesn’t mean we can work with Labour. We’ll have to wait and see and above all know what we stand for.

  • Simon McGrath 17th Dec '19 - 12:12pm

    Lets be clear. Labour hate us. In the election in a number of seats in London they sent hundreds of people not to win themselves but to stop us winning.
    The greens stood down for them in 2017 in dozens of seats and they did nothing to reciprocate.

    Socialism is just as bad as Conservatism.
    No deals.

  • Rob said: ” Part of any deal with Labour should be a commitment to introduce STV “.

    Let’s not jump the gun, The commitment should be to generic PR, not a specific flavour of it. If we get a Lib/Lab majority next time around, then we can discuss which method of PR to go for.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 17th Dec '19 - 12:31pm

    I’m fed up of losing. Aren’t you? I’m especially fed up of losing when our vote has gone up and we have gained so many good second places. And when we lose, so does the country because we lose the opportunity to put our policies into action. Why do we lose? Everyone can make a list of our favourite failures in the Party’s campaign, but we all know that the really big reason is, as always, First Past The Post.
    A pact with Labour is a no-brainer, exactly as it was a few weeks ago when Jeremy Corbyn said there would be no deals. I am not even going to try and analyse his reasons, because they – and he – are in the past and a pact would be about the future. Had he been more flexible, I doubt we would be having this discussion today.
    I do take issue with some of the comments above because the reasons they posit against a pact are all about past behaviour when there was no pact. If you take all the sins of the past into negotiations about a pact in the future, then you won’t get very far. What matters is what you can agree to do together in the future. One of the things that needs to be agreed is a non-aggression pact so that you don’t campaign against each other. It benefits both sides if they know that they will not be faced with Momentum-type teams charging in to trash their candidates in winnable seats.
    If the joint campaign is successful it will lead to a coalition government. If that coalition replaces FPTP with a proportional voting system then most future governments will be coalitions. It’s time to stop demonising that word “coalition”. Most of our European neighbours run their countries with coalition governments, as do many local governments here. They work.
    In my observation of the European scene, especially when I was on the Committee of the Regions, it seemed that most politicians and parties behaved rather better towards their opponents than they do here. It’s hard to condemn your political opponent as the devil incarnate during the campaign when the electoral arithmetic may deliver her or him to the seat across the table negotiating the formation of the next government.
    Let’s think seriously about doing a deal and campaigning to win the next election.

  • In order for a pact with Labour to be possible, there must be sufficient common ground for it to be workable. Labour is the only left of centre party that refuses to support electoral reform and until it commits to it formally in policy then there is no basis for an alliance.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Dec '19 - 12:50pm

    Firstly Labour needs to come to its senses.
    Personalities matter.
    They are having an inquest into what went wrong for them.
    They need to understand what Michael Meadowcroft often told us, that planning to win the general election after next, is writing off the next general election.
    Labour needs to understand, deeply, that getting an overall majority for one party, is a fantasy. They might like the SDLP, currently one MP, previously three, maximum eighteen.
    We should set one red line, which is electoral reform to ‘a fair voting system’. Any Lib Dem MP who does not insist, now, on that should not be elected as Lib Dem Leader.
    ‘a fair voting system’ was David Steel’s language, but the electoral systemS for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly are compromises. Our policy is Single Transferable Vote, which we MUST stick to.

  • No, NO, NO!

    Labour are pure toxic at the moment and will be for the foreseeable future. Any alliance with them only infects the Liberal Democrats with that toxic perception and makes LDs uncompetitive against Conservative facing seats.

    Liberalism is not socialism. Socialism is and always will be monstrous

  • Agree with James Pugh – an electoral pact with the Labour Party would be crazy. It would be seen by a overwhelming number of voters as simply a Momentum led Labour Party against the Tories. It wouldn’t matter if it was a Lib Dem candidate taking on a Tory, that Lib Dem would be seen as supporting a Labour leader for PM. Can’t even think why anyone would even consider this – it would destroy your party. Please don’t anyone try to make out the Lib/Lab pact of the late 70’s did any good – the country got itself in a right old mess which led to many years of Mrs Thatcher.

  • I think a coalescence of the anti-Tory / centre-left parties will happen eventually. It’ll be whenever the Labour Party returns to sanity, the number of MPs is reduced to 600 (or less), and perhaps whenever Scotland leaves the U.K.

  • Patrick C Smith 17th Dec '19 - 2:27pm

    Liberalism is non-ideological and non-tribal.

    The Labour Party was originally formed to represent the working classes in the face of privilege and excesses of capitalism in the 19thC but today is predicated on extreme political ideology and deprecates individual worth or harmony .It has now suffered atttritionally at the Polls due to its helt-bent `wall of death’ journey into policy on hoof experimental workshop neo- Corbynism and damn the rest.I have only voted Labour once in a life-time and would never do so again!

    Liberalism is predicated on the individual liberty that is found in `On Liberty’ (1859) J.S Mill and espouses the belief that mankind should work in harmony for common aims such as better old age pensions and defence of human and legal rights of those who do least harm to their neighbours.It asserts principles of internationalism and co-operation with those with shared values and aspirations hence being yoked to our continued crusade EU Membership and the belief that it stands for human and economic betterment.

    Liberalism further espouses that no one should not fulfil their human potential due to birth,caste,creed or language or gender.

    Unless someone steps forward entrenched in the same catch-all Labour modus operanti as a Blair or the late John Smith who were both latterday rational disciples of the British Labour Party and never decribed it as a `Movement’ : further implosion and spiralling Election deafeats at the polls, is guaranteed.

    The voters can be brutal and have pronounced against any pursuit of Marxism by any other name or rose in Labour in N Wales,Midlands and signiificantly the North of England and thrown them out save 1 MP in Scotland.

    Labour are currently asymmetrical in belief and not to be trusted or capable of standing in the same shadow as our L/D MPs or great L/D and Liberalism since 1859 traditions

  • Julian Tisi 17th Dec '19 - 2:41pm

    Yawn. Hell no. We are so different from Labour at the moment you’ve got to be kidding.

  • Nigel Hardy 17th Dec '19 - 2:51pm

    The only way for us to have any significanct infleunce again in parliament is if Labour can see the light on working co-operatively across the opposition benches helps everyone on those benches, including them. Both them and us will be electing a new leader in the late spring, and that’s the time to be talking to them. Meanwhile, we need to figure out where we are the political map with some attractive policies, and we should shout louder from now on about a “fairer voting system”. Keep it simple and appealing, do away with the language of electoral reform etc that doesn’t spell it out.

    If Labour appoint Corbyn’s protegee child to succeed him then it will not be as easy getting the party on board than if someone like Yvette Cooper took over, but if our new leader gets in early to win them over it’s easier than once they have settled down. Maybe our leader should also take Caroline Lucas along, who I know would be very keen to support progressive thinking.

    Given that we are in second place in many Tory seats, and only strong regionally rather than across the map this is the selling point to the Labour party. ‘You back us where we are strong and together we can get those seats off the Tories. Likewise we’ll do the same for you. We are your friends not your enemy. Then we can work to form the next coalition together and mutually pledge to an agreed electoral reform of STV.

  • Some are maybe overcomplicating the issue. We’re not talking about a pre-election coalition with Labour. We don’t need common policies. We don’t promise to get into bed with them after an election. All we need to do is to agree to fight the Tories next time around, and not waste energy, resources and constituencies fighting each other.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Dec '19 - 3:14pm

    I’m sorry but this is just a very silly posting. Labour are not our political friends and allies and never have been. Labour would only ever do an electoral deal with us if they thought it would result in the extermination of Liberals and Liberalism. As no doubt it would. We have a choice of fighting on or playing tiddledywinks (or whatever). Everyone must make up their own minds – as always.

  • Yousuf Farah 17th Dec '19 - 4:50pm

    We need to be realistic about this: Labour are not our friends, neither are the Conservatives, both are as bad as each other. We’d do better not to associate with them.

  • Tony Greaves 17th Dec ’19 – 3:14pm……………..I’m sorry but this is just a very silly posting. Labour are not our political friends and allies and never have been. Labour would only ever do an electoral deal with us if they thought it would result in the extermination of Liberals and Liberalism. As no doubt it would. We have a choice of fighting on or playing tiddledywinks (or whatever). Everyone must make up their own minds – as always…………

    Such sentiments are why this party is, and will be, no more than a minor player.
    The same mindset was why Jo Swinson’s first thought on even being asked to ‘just talk’ to Labour was ‘nonsense’.
    I thought this party was against everything the SNP stood for but, rather than stay with Labour and keep frustrating Boris Johnson’s demand for a December election, this party voted with the SNP to allow it; 11 MPs and the loss of the leader shows the futility of that.

    Are Labour’s policies on the NHS, environmental issues, social care, child poverty, homelessness, etc. that different than those of this party?

    Electoral pacts are not for life but, the alternative seems to be an eternal, ever more right wing, Tory government.

  • Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

  • Dennis Wake 17th Dec '19 - 5:25pm

    The SDLP have 2 seats not one. When in the past the Liberals did not stand a candidate the vote split almost 50/50 Labour/Conservative with slightly more going to whichever party was in the lead so Labour would gain almost nothing from a pact but on those rare occasions when there was no Labour candidate almost all their supporters voted Liberal and we won places like North Dorset (Frank Byers) and North Cornwall. As soon as they had a Labour candidate the seat went back to the Conservatives. The Liberals before 1914 stood down in favour of Labour and this caused it to grow and replace the Liberals . Labour know this and would never reciprocate because they know what would happen if they did. They are terrified of a Liberal revival and will do anything to stop it.
    We will never get Labour or Conservatives to introduce PR of any kind but they might be induced to make a change whereby in the devolved nations voting for Westminster should be in the same way as the system used for the local Assembly as this would benefit Labour and Conservatives as well as Lib Dems and reduce the impact of Nationalists. The SNP would have got 26/27 MPs instead of 48 under PR and all UK parties would have gained seats. If this is not done we could have a situation where all Scottish seats are held by the SNP with less than 50% of the votes as so many MPs have small majorities.

  • vince thurnell 17th Dec '19 - 6:11pm

    For one reason alone I cannot understand a lot of people annomisty towards labour. A recent poll revealed three quarters of labour members would rather have PR than the current voting system. That alone should surely give you something to work with them for.

    What you can’t seem to understand though is you are by far the smallest party of the two and as a result have to give up more than you keep.

    You seemed happy to do it when you went into government with one of the most right wing governments we’ve ever seen.

    What a shame that even now so many of you won’t put your tribal views to one side and instead want to stick to a wat that doesn’t work and will keep the tories in power for many more year.

  • Tristan Ward 17th Dec '19 - 7:25pm

    Surely the big lesson of this election is that Corbyn’s Labour party is toxic with the voters and therefore any association with it is madness

  • Nom de Plume 17th Dec '19 - 7:45pm

    Labour is not going to give us PR. The lessons from the Coalition have not yet been learnt.

  • Tristan Ward
    I kind of disagree. I think the lesson is actually that when there ‘s a referendum it’s toxic to spend three years annoying voters and messing about. Labour’s and the LD’s big mistake was not understanding that EU membership was over in 2016 and then indulging in parliamentary gamesmanship. Corbyn certainly had his faults but it was Remain game playing that lead to the Johnson victory. The only “remain” party to do well was the SNP and by definition they’re not really in favour of the UK staying in the EU as they are not in favour of the UK existing in the first place.

  • I don’t think it is even slightly deliverable even if it was desirable! If it was ever likely to have been possible it would have been as a Remain Alliance. Unless the Johnson government proves deeply unpopular and becomes unsalvagably distrusted, the risk is the Lib Dems losing here what they gain there.

    Labour has been a political cul-de-sac for the Centre/Left, perpetuating Tory dominance! It’s wings are too divided and can’t agree the most basic of economic principles, one will always dominate the other which then awaits its time to pounce.

    What might be better is a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions now on a future political umbrella grouping of the broad centre. To fight the next election more clearly under a single flag, with an agreed programme and, of course, not standing against each other anywhere. A grouping that political parties, MP’s, interest groups and individuals can sign up to and are free to leave. It’s a shame that those who formed Change UK didn’t have somewhere they felt they could go straight to, I think they could have achieved more!

  • Nom de Plume 17th Dec '19 - 8:16pm

    Liberals will remain pro-EU and internationalists regardless what happens. Johnson is a bigger problem for Labour, at least, outside metropolitan areas. Labour is two different parties.

  • @ Nom de Plume 17th Dec ’19 – 7:45pm. “Labour is not going to give us PR. The lessons from the Coalition have not yet been learnt.”

    The Liberal Party could have had PR during the debate on the Representation of the People Act 1918 in 1917. It was frustrated by the Lloyd George Coalition which I will leave to others, such as Professor Denis Mollison for example, to explain. A very big own goal.

  • Any pact with Labour would be like a mouse doing a pact with a bird of prey in order to put a bell on the cat.

  • Mohammed Amin 17th Dec '19 - 9:45pm

    I believe that a pact only makes sense when there is sufficient agreement about policy platforms.

    The current Labour Party is toxic in my view, and I do not believe that entering into a pact with them would do us any good electorally.

  • Michael Sammon 17th Dec '19 - 10:08pm

    Never going to happen and nor should it. All promoting the idea is going to achieve is more people voting Tory.

  • Yousuf said: “We need to be realistic about this: Labour are not our friends, neither are the Conservatives, both are as bad as each other. We’d do better not to associate with them.”

    My enemy’s enemy is my friend.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Dec '19 - 10:24pm

    “Liberalism is predicated on the individual liberty that is found in `On Liberty’ ”
    except that it supported capital punishment, which I prefer to call judicial execution.
    In the past 200 years police forces have been created , empowered and provided with improved technology, leading to improved public confidence and political and electoral desire/s for expansion.

  • @ Martin : Hansard, 21st March 1868 Speech by John Stuart Mill MP, opposing a bill calling for the abolition of capital punishment.

  • Joseph Bourke 18th Dec '19 - 2:06am

    Vince Cable’s rebuttal to Simon Jenkins in the Guardian
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/17/first-past-post-common-ground
    “To adapt to the new reality, my party will have to move on from excessive zealous Europeanism – a cause that led to the unsuccessful revoke policy and has sadly now gone. The Lib Dems must be a voice for “leave” Carshalton – where we lost our excellent, longstanding MP Tom Brake – as much as for “remain” Twickenham. For its part, Labour will have to go back to Gordon Brown’s more disciplined approach to spending – and even to Tony Crosland’s Future of Socialism, written in the 1950s – to remind itself why its clause IV pledge was not a great idea.”

    “Labour and the Lib Dems are distinct political traditions with a complementary capacity to beat the Conservatives. This point is misunderstood by those who say each party betrays the other by existing at all. The answer is not a wholesale takeover of one by the other, but more accommodation between the two. If each of the parties will move a little, there is much common ground to find: around constitutional reform, the environment, civil liberties and social justice. As Johnson seeks a trade deal with the EU, there should be a joint defence not just of workers’ rights but of competition policy, where we should continue to look to Europe to restrain the power of companies such as Amazon and Google.”

    “I would hope that the spirit of cross-party groups such as Unite for Remain, More United and Compass can be mobilised around a shared programme beyond Brexit, to give hope to the politically homeless millions in the gaping middle.”

  • Sopwith Morley 18th Dec '19 - 7:25am

    Surely the fact that you are even talking about a pact suggests that the party is now more Social Democrat than Liberal Democrat.

    Blairism was social democracy pink in tooth and claw, what on earth would be the point of a pact when you follow the same political path, surely a reverse merger of the social democrats into Labour is the logical position if power alone is your modus operandi, leaving the Liberals to follow their own path. To be frank in a pact you will have nothing politically distinctive to offer ( you don’t now if the truth be told), making sentiment alone as the reason for continuing.

    I was once a Liberal Party supporter, but have never been a supporter of the social democratic, Labour mini me party.

  • Tristan Ward

    If Labour – on 33% of the GB vote, almost as many actual votes as Cameron got in 2010, and more than Blair got in 2005 – is “toxic with the voters”, what does that make the Lib Dems? Nuclear waste?

  • Sopwith Morley 18th Dec '19 - 8:23am

    Labour is the party of misery, and the LibDems are rapidly becoming the same.

    Whatever we may think of Boris personally he exudes optimism and the British people crave optimism. In contrast all we hear from Labour, LibDems, Greens, and the various Nats is how bad it all is, a perception more in the minds of defeatist politicians than the population at large, who in the majority enjoy life and look forward optimistically to the future, and yes that includes those you claim( or really want) to be left behind, simplyt because without them you have no narrative for your doom laden scenarios.

  • Paul Murray 18th Dec '19 - 8:28am

    @cim – But that’s not a meaningful comparison, is it? In 2017 Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party got 12.88 million votes. After two and a half years of chaotic Conservative government Labour received 10.27 million votes – a loss of 2.6 million votes.

    Now according to the Ashcroft data, 27% of Labour voters say they always vote that way. I think this is actually an underestimate, but let’s accept it. Then that gearing effect means that between 2017 and 2019 – two years of what by any reasonable estimate was chaotic Tory government – Labour lost 21% of those voters who don’t always vote Labour.

    Whereas between 2017 and 2019 the Conservatives *added* 0.33 million extra voters on a reduced turnout and the Lib Dem vote went up by over 50% on an admittedly low base.

    I’d say “toxic with the voters” is a fair synopsis of Labour’s result.

  • Sopwith said: “Surely the fact that you are even talking about a pact…”

    I’m not talking about a pact, I’m talking about, pre-election, Lib & Lab kicking chunks out of the Tories, and not out of each other.

  • We must face the fact that effectively we do not have any resources – certainly compared with the two larger parties we do not have any. We therefore depend in large measure on there being activists in an area prepared to work together to built the party,
    We must get away from the idea that when we label people they somehow adopt all the characteristics that we project on to them. People vote for all sorts of reasons. They will respond positively to a friendly approach by people who want to listen and to help.
    This is the reality. If we want to increase the influence of the party we must as a first step find a way of involving all our members in decision making, to democratise the party. To ensure that all meetings are run in a way that welcomes new comers, that follows a clear pattern which newcomers can understand.
    We need to ensure that we do in fact build a movement.

  • John Marriott 18th Dec '19 - 9:52am

    If our General Elections are to continue to be decided by FPTP then there is clearly only room for two (possibly two and a third) ‘big’ parties. Change the voting system and you could have, as they say, a whole new ball game. As for ‘working’ with Labour, much will depend upon what kind of Labour Party emerges after next year’s Leadership election. Let’s not forget that there’s another Leadership election next year as well, although I doubt whether it will generate as much publicity.

  • Nigel Jones 18th Dec '19 - 9:58am

    I do not think now is the time to consider a pact with Labour. As Vince Cable says, what is urgently needed is to seek those grounds on which we can influence what happens in our relationship with the EU and what can be done to help those in the UK who feel left behind. We must accept that we will be out of the EU and be seen and heard very loudly on these issues.

  • @Paul Murray

    Certainly Labour did better in 2017, and the Conservatives did better this time. But had the Conservatives done this well in 2005, then without losing a single vote himself on the actual 2005 figures Blair would have been out of office (or at least out of a majority). It wasn’t a good election for Labour, by any measure, but nevertheless a third of the voters for various reasons still preferred them to anyone else.

    Perhaps more concerningly for the Lib Dems, the voters that Labour lost were primarily in deindustrialised towns where the Lib Dems were largely never competitive anyway (and didn’t do any better in 2019), while the voters they hung on to included the university/academia/graduate professionals that were once a large part of the Lib Dem core vote, as seen by the results in seats like Sheffield Hallam, Canterbury, Durham and Cambridge. (Canterbury less historically Lib Dem, but still semi-competitive in 2010, and not historically Labour either)

    So Labour, to the extent that it’s “toxic” overall, is mainly unappealing to voters the Lib Dems don’t appeal to either, while consolidating at this election its appeal to people who would a decade ago have been reliable Lib Dems. That feels more of a problem for the Lib Dems than for Labour. (I agree that any sort of formal pact is not the solution, however – it would be bad for both parties but especially for the Lib Dems)

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '19 - 10:49am

    Martin 17th Dec ’19 – 10:38pm
    Sorry for the delay I was under flood in LDV.
    David Raw 18th Dec ’19 – 12:08am
    Thank you.
    Mill’s support for capital punishment is an important part of the attack on ‘On Liberty’ which is grossly overdone.
    Nevertheless it should not be treated as if it were holy writ, it was a product of its time.
    It says nothing about the European Union.
    I recall attending a meeting of the John Stuart Mill Society.
    The guest speaker was an academic who had been a member of the Free Democrat Party (Die Liberalen) and, unusually, was also a member of the House of Lords in the UK. I regret that I have forgotten his name, perhaps others can help.
    He spoke several languages fluently and read several newspapers every day from several countries.
    He said that the EU would not expand but would disintegrate. Specifically he said that Finland and Sweden would not join. Chris Huhne was present. He was an MEP at the time, but said nothing.
    I said that they would join because of ‘political gravity’. The guest speaker said nothing at the time, but after the meeting quoted ‘political gravity’ back at me with contempt, but without detailed argument.
    Austria voted first, YES.
    Finland had memories of Stalin’s invasion in 1939 and weak post-war sovereignty caused by a powerful neighbour, the USSR. They voted YES. They did not join NATO.
    Sweden voted 2 weeks later, YES, and were greeted with rapturous acclaim in the European Parliament in the form of a record acceptance vote.
    Norway voted NO, again. Their Prime Minister did not resign. Norway would have been a net contributor to the EU budget.

  • Joseph Bourke 17th Dec ’19 – 6:24pm………….Asquith wrote that ‘there is only one way in which liberalism can be killed and that is by suicide’. LibDems need to define ourselves on your own terms, rather than with half an eye on one of the other parties. Nick Clegg got it right when he said that ‘realignment is a polite euphemism used by one party that wants to gang up on the other gang – with us as a temporary recruit’. Liberals need to tend to their own philosophy and future. Stick to liberal principles and let the electorate decide. As Jo Grimond said: ‘There is no point keeping a liberal party alive unless it promotes liberalism.’……………………

    Oh, Asquith..That great Liberal and supporter of universal suffrage??? He died before seeing his lifelong opposition to ‘votes for women’ being fully overturned.

    Oh, Clegg.. He did so much for this party; didn’t he?

    As for your quoting Jo Grimond,, there is not much point in keeping this party alive if that existence is, like now, on permanent ‘Life Support’..

    You throw the word ‘liberalism’ about but, as far as ‘liberalism’ is concerned, my prime demand is that it offers ‘equal opportunity for all’,,,Your first two examples didn’t do much to help that cause.

  • Part of any electoral pact must be a shared commitment to electoral reform. This provides a transient nature to it and also helps to cement the alliance. The issue is trusting Labour to keep to it and making it believable by the electorate.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '19 - 12:57pm
  • Richard Underhill 18th Dec '19 - 1:05pm

    17th Dec ’19 – 12:50pm
    Labour has a problem which is that it does not have a deputy leader.
    He was directly elected and therefore had his own mandate,
    but did not stand for re-election as an MP in the 2019 general election.

  • David Allen 18th Dec '19 - 7:32pm

    The tribalists in the Lib Dems are right. Labour is a party that is full of tribalists. They won’t be prepared to make a deal with the Lib Dems.

    The tribalists in Labour are right. The Lib Dems are a party that is full of tribalists. They won’t be prepared to make a deal with Labour.

    The only way to break this logjam is to start afresh, and seek to form a new, broader party, which spans the centre and left, and which is prepared to reach a governing consensus – like the US Democrats.

    Starting afresh with bright newbies alone, like “Renew Britain” did, won’t gain enough traction. We need major figures from the Lib Dems and Labour to recognise the need to come together and move forward. Chuka Umunna, Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry, Caroline Lucas, Luciana Berger, will you please listen?

  • IF thats how you feel David, why wait for them, step up to the plate yourself.

  • JH: “If thats how you feel David, why wait for them, step up to the plate yourself.”

    Nice crushing putdown, JH. Slightly spoilt by the fact that you didn’t bother to read what I wrote. Go back and think about my remark “Starting afresh with bright newbies alone, like “Renew Britain” did, won’t gain enough traction.”

    Many over-optimistic individuals and small groups, like “Renew Britain” and Change UK, have recognised the need for radical change. But they have hugely overestimated what can be achieved by political new starters. It takes gross vanity to make that mistake, and though I may be pretty vain, I’m not vain enough to fit that bill!

    The SDP, which was led by major political figures, got a lot further than “Renew Britain” has done. It’s arguable whether the SDP was, ultimately, at least partially a success. The SDP / Liberal Alliance achieved a 26% GE vote which its successors have never bettered, and changed twentieth-century centre-left politics for the better.

    Can a new party outperform the old SDP? It’s possible, I suggest. The parlous state of the Labour and Lib Dem parties cries out for their overthrow and replacement by a new force. Otherwise, expect Johnson to lie, bribe, bluster and batter his way to re-election in 2024.

  • David Allen – if you think “If thats how you feel David, why wait for them, step up to the plate yourself” is a “crushing putdown” then something is seriously wrong with your grasp of the English language ! – I d say it was positive encouragement, not a crushing put down. What I meant was that you could suggest to some senior figures the need for co-operation yourself (although admittedly I didnt word it that well).

  • David Garlick 19th Dec '19 - 4:40pm

    I feel that this proposal is a non starter. I would like Labour to consider it but they never will. Happy to be proved wrong…

  • Joseph Bourke 20th Dec '19 - 1:25am

    A number of letters published in response to the Guardian opinion pieces by Simon Jenkins and Vince Cable https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/18/the-liberal-democrats-place-in-british-politics

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