We need to be ready to take on Labour

As we likely approach an incoming Labour Government, Liberal Democrats must not waste any time before turning our campaigning firepower on Labour.

The helpful zeitgeist in this General Election has been the self-destruction of the Conservatives. However, the quiet non-aggression between ourselves and the Labour Party needs to end at 10pm on 4th July.

At times it has felt extremely lonely fighting Labour in the last decade. As the party races to win the Blue Wall, Red Wall communities are abandoned in too many areas between an awful Labour/Conservative/Reform dog fight. Liberal community politics in Labour-held cities and towns is absent except for a few hardworking and honourable Lib Dem exceptions.

It’s been really hard fighting Labour. Winning every vote has been the result of a genuine record of action, knocking on doors constantly and a fierce short campaign.

I came 9th when I first stood in my ward back in 2016. This May, I was re-elected with 53% of the vote. It’s a ward which (before our 2021 win) was Labour-held since 1973. This is the result of 8 years of classic ‘pick a ward and win it’ campaigning, getting candidates to ALDC’s Kickstart and G8 grant support.

It’s not the party’s fault that we do so poorly in midlands and northern Labour-facing areas – it’s the result of a decade of sensible targeting.

So two things concern me as we approach the finale of this conservative shambles.

Firstly, too many in the party think Labour are our friends – they are not. Secondly, if we are too slow to realise the opportunity of a Labour Government then Reform, the Greens and what’s left of the Conservatives will march forwards.

So I ask the party to pivot quickly to make the most of every cock up, every commitment dropped, every u-turn – let’s be the worthy threat to Labour we were under Charles Kennedy.

And beg local parties facing Labour to not shy away from taking Labour on. We’ve won in Lincoln by ruthless targeting, a strong message and a 7 day a week, 52 week campaign. If Labour run the country like they run Lincoln, then the electoral opportunities will be plenty – but only if we’re there first.

* Cllr Clare Smalley is Leader of the Lib Dem Group on City of Lincoln Council.

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  • Martin Gray 24th Jun '24 - 2:33pm

    We could end up gaining a considerable number of seats in our target areas & losing our deposit in many others …
    I remember a time when we had a leader who when asked about the working class – he wanted to abolish it …
    All we can hope for is that those gains give us a bigger voice & presence to reach areas in which we’ve previously polled poorly …
    It’ll take time no doubt ..

  • Mary Fulton 24th Jun '24 - 3:02pm

    Well said !
    I think the political reality going forward is that Labour will seek to park themselves squarely in the centre of the political spectrum; the right will be a fight between the Tories and Reform; the left will be neglected apart from the Greens and George Galloway’s lot. My view is that the Liberal Democrats should be willing to allow the Labour Party to position itself to our right – let us compete for the left-of-centre vote that has been abandoned by Labour. (Obviously a different tactic is needed in Scotland where the SNP is firmly in left-of-centre territory, but the vast majority of constituencies are in England.)

  • Chris Moore 24th Jun '24 - 3:07pm

    Out of interest, Martin, who was that leader?

  • I’d say it’s really not enough to even wait until the day after the election for this.
    The following election may not provide us with many opportunities to take seats from the Tories, and we may struggle to gain seats from Labour where we fail to come second to them this time.

    The big danger is that in many of the sorts of young metropolitan seats that are most likely to become dissatisfied with labour, the Green party looks like they could prevent us from gaining second or even knock us into third in seats where we came second last time.
    MRP polls are suggesting this could happen for instance in Liverpools wavertree + garston, Manchester withington, Leeds Central (which now contains the urban portion of Leeds NW) and most of central London including Hornsey, Islington south, Vauxhall, Clapham and Streatham where we came second last time.
    If we allow this to happen then these will become Green target seats which will deprive us of oxygen and deter the national party from putting any resource into them.

    There are also several seats in the north east plus Hull where we have made substantial gains from labour in local elections but in which the reform party now threatens to overtake us.

    Given how few target seats there are in the north you’d think some local parties could be encouraged to focus on beating the greens+reform locally, rather than travel over an hour to campaign in a seat which has had a 5th of northern members directed to it.

  • Martin Gray 24th Jun '24 - 5:36pm

    Where some wise old Liberals regaled us with stories of Jo Grimond. On one occasion, Jo was in Yorkshire for a public meeting. A local Socialist asked him: “Jo, what are you going to do for the working class?”. He replied: “Abolish it”….

  • Michael Brown 24th Jun '24 - 7:48pm

    I wholeheartedly agree Claire, we must take the fight to Labour across metropolitan areas and the North where our national message is lacking at the moment. There was talk a while ago of a ‘Northern Liberal Network’ to share best practice and push forward Liberal ideas in Labour facing areas, perhaps now is the time to revive it.

    P.S. you may not remember, but I was your Lib Dem running mate in that 2016 election, coming 10th!

  • Tristan Ward 24th Jun '24 - 9:04pm

    The problem with competing for votes to the left of the current Labour Party is that Liberal Democrats are not democratic socialists. It just can not be done while remining intectually honest.

    The party should remain liberal, internationalist,, strong on the rule of law and human rights, and determined to defend and improve the constitution.

    If we really want to help destroy the Conservative Party, this is how we can help by giving decent, conservative liberals a home. And after all it seems likely that after 4 July our MPs will over whelmingly represent areas where such voters abound.

  • Peter Martin 24th Jun '24 - 10:22pm

    ” However, the quiet non-aggression between ourselves and the Labour Party needs to end at 10pm on 4th July.”

    If you are going to be honest with the electorate it needs to end right now.

    The danger of Starmer super majority is all too real. It’s not going to make for a good Parliament. There will be insufficient democratic scrutiny of a faction which will be drunk on power.

  • James Fowler 25th Jun '24 - 9:41am

    Very much agree with Tristan Ward.

  • Alex Macfie 25th Jun '24 - 9:53am

    Some contributors here seem to be supposing that ordinary voters think along the same ideological tram-lines that political activists do. In reality, voters are not necessarily ideologues. Under Charles Kennedy we successfully courted natural Labour voters in some seats. But there are two points to this: ① we were still able to win seats from the Tories, and ② while we often attacked Labour from the left flank, we did so without the toxic baggage of the ideological Left as represented by Corbyn & Co. The young voters who flocked to Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 were not some new Red Guard; they were ordinary people who were just impressed by his “brand” and as our success against Labour in 2005 shows, can also be persuaded by a radical alternative that isn’t tainted by the hard left. So there isn’t an inherent contradiction between winning votes and seats from the Tories and doing so from Labour.

    Whether an MRP is accurate depends on the assumptions it makes. MRP is good with vote shifts among voter tribes on a large scale. What it is less good at is representing local factors (e.g. look at the highly implausible constituency predictions from some MRP polls that Labour will overtake us from <10% in Con+LD battlegrounds to take the seat). Whether we retain 2nd place in our old Labour-facing areas depends on local strength.

  • Steve Trevethan 25th Jun '24 - 9:58am

    Might it benefit some 25% of our permanently underfed children, reduce the need for food banks, reduce homelessness etc. and benefit the L. D.s by attacking Austerity, the mask of Neoliberal socio-economics with its fallacious book balancing, flexible fantasy “headroom” and oligarchical, undemocratic control of our economy by the Bank of England?

  • @Tristan Ward – “The problem with competing for votes to the left of the current Labour Party is that Liberal Democrats are not democratic socialists. It just can not be done while remining intectually honest.”

    It’s not hard to be to the left of the current Labour Party! They are offering “continuity conservatism” albeit under new management.

  • The article author is correct. Labour have no more intention of reforming the voting system that the Conservatives do, hence both are arguably anti-democratic preferring guaranteed “safe seats” to genuine democratic contests. The LDs should not hesitate to point out that, by favouring the current electoral system, Labour are just guaranteeing that the Conservatives will be back with another whooping majority in 5-10 years.

  • Peter Martin 25th Jun '24 - 11:51am

    We should demand a certain level of consistency and integrity from our politicians – whether or not we agree with them and regardless of anyone’s position on the political spectrum. Democracy can only work if candidates say what they mean and mean what they say. If we can’t trust them, we shouldn’t vote for them. We simply don’t know what we are voting for.

    It’s possible that Keir Starmer will revert to his previous left wing positions (see link below) after winning on a right wing manifesto. He previously also was in favour of Labour CLPs choosing their own candidates. Now he’s not. He can’t answer simple questions about his role in the Corbyn shadow cabinet. It is unlikely he will change back, but we don’t know for sure. Even so I wouldn’t want to vote for him on this basis. His behaviour undermines democracy.

    Lib Dems are meant to be a democratic party yet they fail to call out Starmer for his mendacity.


  • William Wallace 25th Jun '24 - 12:19pm

    All of us who campaign in the north of England will agree with this article. But we will also have to recognise that a parliamentary party overwhelmingly drawn from prosperous southern England will find it difficult to make the case to their voters for the long-term levelling up which will need to be part of our pitch to win over voters in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Lincoln and beyond. Northern Rail, for instance…

  • This “non-aggression” pact between us and Labour is presumably supposed to apply only to each other’s Tory-facing battlegrounds (I don’t think we’re holding back our fire in Sheffield Hallam!). However, in that case, some constituency Labour parties haven’t received the memo. I noticed Labour seemed to be campaigning strongly in Guildford when I was there last weekend. They’re also out and about in the SW London Golden Triangle. This could be due to candidatitis or deliberately trying to undermine us and not minding if it means the Tory winning. Some of their literature claims they can win or are the real main challenger to the Tory, using the sort of questionable MRP constituency predictions I mentioned above. In a leaflet in K&S (which also repeats Tory tropes about Ed and the PO scandal) they’re making 2+2=5 by combining such a prediction with another poll stat about the proportion of Lib Dem supporters nationwide who are tactical switchers from Labour.

    Even in our battlegrounds we should beware of Labour. They could make some of those MRP predictions self-fulfilling if we aren’t careful.

  • David Warren 25th Jun '24 - 5:31pm

    Some great points from Claire here, a Labour government will open up opportunities for us just like the last one did.

    In 2010 in my home town of Reading the Lib Dem group was nine councillors, six of whom were from wards previously seen as pretty safe for Labour. They were won by hard work greatly assisted by the behaviour of an appallingly run Labour council. Unfortunately by 2014 they had all been lost.

    A major reason for the defeats was the decision by the Lib Dem group to go into coalition with the Tories following Labour losing overall control of the council in May of 2010. Even worse Lib Dem councillors took the adult social care and environmental portfolios becoming the public face of some very unpopular decisions.

    The Greens moved into the wards that we previously held and now hold them. It is them not us who are the significant voice on the council, in fact they have overtaken the Tories to become the official opposition.

    Looking forward Reading like many other Labour run rotten boroughs will provide opportunities for growth in the years ahead but if as a result our councillors end up with a share of power they must avoid making the mistakes of the coalition years!

  • @Alex Macfie
    I’m aware of the limitations of MRP but I think the fact that most of the latest ones are showing the greens overtaking us in so many of these seats should still be a cause for concern and enough to prompt the relevant local parties to focus on campaigning locally.
    We can also see what happens in labour council wards that neither party targets, the greens usually come ahead of us by default, but in those which we target and they don’t we come ahead of them.
    But since we mostly aren’t targeting these seats there is a risk of the former scenario playing out.

  • Paul Barker 26th Jun '24 - 3:39pm

    Go back to your Constituencies & prepare to be the Official Opposition.
    Few of the comments on here seem to grasp the scale of the opportunities in our grasp or the changes we will have to make in the way we think & speak. If its Davey vs Starmer every week at PMQs we are going to be constantly criticising Labour, sometimes we will sound Left, occassionly Right & often Green – the trick is to be consistently Liberal

    We need to think about our Ideas & Values a lot more – hard working won’t cut it.

  • I’d go a bit further than those saying we can be both left wing and liberal, because if we want actually ideologically liberal people to vote for us then we have to go left.

    This is because the most liberal voters by far are those who are both young and well educated. Such voters are nearly always on the left economically with major concentrations in central London, certain parts of major cities and areas with exceptionally high student populations.
    Just look at which authorities voted yes in the AV referendum, or those places where the remain vote was the very highest.

  • Peter Martin 27th Jun '24 - 10:25am

    @ David LG,

    I agree on the question of being both left economically and liberal socially. Why not? What’s the problem?

    I suspect that many LibDems don’t actually want to adopt such a position though. The Lib Dems have given up trying to appeal to the working class in the less affluent areas of the country. They don’t even bother trying in seats they once held like Burnley and Rochdale. There’s more votes to be had in staying well to the right and adopting what used to be the position of a certain wing of the Tory party.

    The mistake you are still making though is to assume that tend to assume that Remain is somehow synonymous with intelligence. Some of us would differ on this point.

    If Remainers are so intelligent why don’t they take the trouble to analyse the obvious macroeconomic problems of running a common currency in the EU? If more were to do this they have a better understanding of why the far right has risen as it has in the EU and even why the UK voted for Brexit.


  • @Peter Martin: My impression is that being socially liberal is more the preserve of, shall we say, the University-educated middle classes (and I’m not trying to imply anything about intelligence here, I think it’s more to do with cultural values). If you want to appeal to traditional working class communities, you’re better off being economically left but socially conservative (Brexit isn’t the only reason why the Tories were making such inroads into Labour’s red wall up to 2019 – they were well positioned to appeal to the values of those voters). The LibDems are going to struggle there without a rethink of our attitudes to some traditional cultural issues.

  • Peter Davies 27th Jun '24 - 12:32pm

    Students were a core demographic in 2010. The rest of academia still is (see our strength in OxWAb and Cambridgeshire outside the undergraduate area. We need to do something dramatic to bring them back. I would suggest a Universal Basic Income that gave them something to live on besides loans.

  • Charles A Pragnell 27th Jun '24 - 1:41pm

    I think the polls are beginning to tell a story! The Lib Dems are getting some traction a poll to day has them on 15%, Reform , Labour and Tories all down 1. The Newstatman poll suggest Greens are 8%! Is this a sign of Tories and Labour voting Lib Dem. Tories switching because they are scunnered, and Labour voting tactically in blue wall seats where they can win. In 1997 Paddy fought an excellent campaign on education and health, for much of that campaign they were on 10% . But on election night it was 16.5 % . Ed is having a good campaign and focusing on Health and Social Care is getting traction. He is running a grounded campaign, unlike Jo Swinson! The out come is uncertain, the predictions are 37 to 81! Electoral calculas has us on 66 seats . Time will tell, but it will be a night of gains and going forwards .

  • Ex-LD Leeds 27th Jun '24 - 3:18pm

    “In 1997 Paddy fought an excellent campaign on education and health, for much of that campaign they were on 10% .”

    That’s a bit overstated if you look at the figures

    Just 6 of the many polls March – May 1997 had the Lib Dems on 10% or lower.

  • @Peter Martin
    I never mentioned intelligence. It just happens to be the case that people with a university degree are much more likely to have voted ramain, which is one of a number of subjects on which this demographic is ideologically aligned our party. Same with young voters.

    We should also try to appeal more to the working class though I get the impression that where we have historically had success with this, it has been in places with proportionately older populations and I’d imagine was achieved through community politics and basic bread and butter issues rather than anything too ideological.

  • Alex Macfie 28th Jun '24 - 9:17am

    @David LG: Just because MRP is showing a similar pattern across a particular type of seat doesn’t mean it’s correct. It just means that the same assumptions are being applied, but if those assumptions are wrong, then the predictions will be wrong. For example, Survation’s MRP shows Lib Dem vote falling and Labour vote rising across the board in Con~LibDem battleground seats (in one poll having us a poor 3rd in Chesham & Amersham), but we know this is wrong from the ground campaigns there. MRP polling isn’t likely to be very accurate when local factors are involved, because even the large sample sizes mean only around 30–50 voters per constituency on average. The best way to test the accuracy of an MRP constituency prediction is to look at what is happening on the ground there.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jun '24 - 9:25am

    You have good reason to take on Labour even at this late stage.

    Labour Policy is based on the notion that somehow economic growth will pay for the very limited amount of change they are proposing. There are three aspects to consider here:

    1) They have no coherent plan to produce any growth. If we want an increase in GDP then someone somewhere will have to spend more. Labour say it won’t be their government. The rest of us are unlikely to suddenly loosen the purse strings. The purses may well be empty in any case.

    2) Even if we do get economic growth previous experience tells us that the benefits are unlikely to be equitably distributed.

    3) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that we do get growth, and the benefits are equitably distributed, it still won’t provide any more of the people we need such teachers, doctors and nurses. If we are all better off then they will have to be better off too. This means paying them more. So even though we might all be 10% better off we aren’t going to be employing more people if they are 10% more expensive.

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t aim to grow the economy. However economic growth is not the magic formula that many claim it to be.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jun '24 - 9:54am

    @ David LG

    You may not have specifically used the word “intelligence” but equating educational achievement with a propensity to have supported Remain is code for the same thing. I accept that there is a link with educational levels but this will be because those of us with degrees will higher incomes – on average. The link is therefore more correctly associated with economics rather than education.

    So if you want to abandon your former working class supporters on the basis of economics then fine but please make it clear that it’s not really about education.

    Many Leavers are far more aware than Remainers of the intrinsic contradictions of what the EU is trying to achieve. I accept there are many good intentions but there is also a high degree of neoliberalism too. The EU has been designed to suit the corporate elites rather than your former voters in working class constituencies.

    That’s why they are former voters.

  • Joseph Bourke 28th Jun '24 - 12:50pm

    The LibDem Manifesto anticipates investing an additional £19.7 billion a year on average over the next Parliament. The IFS writes ” This would be enough to offset the cuts to investment spending implied by the March Budget so, in other words, the Liberal Democrats’ plan implies holding investment spending at around its current level – which is high by recent UK standards. But doing this additional (relative to existing plans) investment spending well would take time to plan and implement and therefore involve spending being backloaded. This is to be financed through additional borrowing which might explain why, in contrast to the Conservatives and to Labour, the Liberal Democrats seem not to have put a date on their commitment “to get the national debt falling as a share of national income”. https://ifs.org.uk/articles/liberal-democrat-manifesto-reaction.
    Investopedia on their article on economic growth note “Economic growth occurs when there is a rise in the production of goods and services for a certain period as compared with a previous one. It is generally measured in terms of GDP and is an indicator of the economic health of a country. However, how widely the fruits of the growth are shared is an important factor in its sustenance, not to mention societal health and progress.”https://www.investopedia.com/terms/e/economicgrowth.asp

  • Peter Martin 28th Jun '24 - 2:44pm

    @ Joe,

    We heard the same commitments to get the national debt falling as a % of GDP during the coalition years. Largely these have been unsuccessful.

    There are several relatively simple points to consider. Usually they aren’t though!:

    1) Government borrowing rarely involves going out to ask anyone, such as the IMF, for a loan. The financial sectors, both domestically and internationally, want to save by buying Govt bonds. So the Government sells them. It’s rather like a bank offering interest on deposits. The Treasury could just as well do the same by abolishing bond sales and offering similar deposits to would be savers. It could vary interest rates to encourage or discourage saving instead of asking the BoE to set interest rates by market intervention.

    Of course once the money comes in the Govt usually has to do something with it, ie spend it, to keep the economy functioning.

    2) Deficits and debts can’t easily be altered by fiscal measures. If Govt reduces its spending it also reduces its income. If tax rates are increased the economy will slow which also reduces income.

    3) They can be addressed by monetary measures but in perhaps a counterintuitive way. If Govt wants to reduce its deficit it has to persuade the rest of us to save less. The one being the mirror image of the other. Reducing interest rates is the obvious way to do it. Conversely increasing interest rates will increase the Govt deficit.

  • Peter Davies 28th Jun '24 - 3:38pm

    @Peter Martin. The link between education and referendum voting persists if you adjust for income. A far more relevant factor is age. Leave voters were much older than remain voters and more likely to come from the cohort that could leave school at 14 than that which expected to leave at 18 with a good chance of going to university or college.

  • Peter Martin 28th Jun '24 - 4:43pm

    @ Peter Davies,

    “The link between education and referendum voting persists if you adjust for income.”

    You’d have to take out the age factor as well. So the question is whether a 40 year old (or whatever) with a certain level of income would be more or less likely to vote Remain depending on their educational level?

    There’s also the possibility that the relationship is far from linear. More a U shaped curve. It’s possible that those with lower levels of education (lower intelligence if you prefer) dislike the EU for all the wrong reasons. Think football hooligans singing ” ten German bombers” ! 🙂

    Those who have somewhat more nous like the EU because they like not having too many different currencies in their wallets when they go on holiday. Take another step up and there are those who have taken an interest in macroeconomics and quickly come to the same conclusion as Yanis Varoufakis and other critics of the EU.

    They end up agreeing with the hooligans!

  • @ Peter Davies “more likely to to come from the cohort that could leave school at 14.”

    The youngest of the cohort to which you refer will be at least 92 years old now……. so I think you’re over egging your pudding a tad.

  • Peter Davies 28th Jun '24 - 6:34pm

    @David Raw. That was 84 at the time of the referendum. It was a long time ago.

  • Peter Davies 28th Jun '24 - 6:37pm

    In England it was only raised to 18 in 2015.

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