We need to rethink our relationship with other parties

Corbyn’s out and Starmer’s in. What does it mean for us?

I feel it means a contemplation of our relationship with other parties. I feel we need to open a discussion about what happens next, even if it goes nowhere.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think we should stand firm to our liberal values, and I certainly don’t think we should become synonymous with any other party. When a voter puts their cross in the Liberal Democrat box, they should be assured they are voting for the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Nor do I think electoral pacts are necessarily the right road to go down. The Remain Alliance’s effects were felt in some areas, thus decreasing morale within the party. Besides, not standing candidates (even ones who seem unlikely to win) denies voters the opportunity to vote for us.

But outside of election time? That is another matter.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are both, historically, left wing parties. Yes, Labour believes in socialist policies, such as redistribution of wealth, while we believe in liberal ones, such as a free market, but many liberals (and especially many in our party) do not believe in a free market completely free of state control, and we, too, support increased benefits (such as the introduction of a UBI).

Another one of our liberal policies is the introduction of proportional representation in our elections. Should any of the suggested PR systems be implemented – whether it be STV, d’Hondt or additional member – it will, in most cases, require a coalition on the other side of the election to form a stable government. Forming a coalition will require a certain level of respect and good will between the parties involved. From what I understand of Irish politics (which operates on a proportional system) this is easy anyway in a system using PR, but we should attempt to build these connections before PR even comes into force.

Even during election time, there are some things we could do. Only thirteen of our top 100 targets in the next election are Labour held, and none of Labour’s top 100 are Liberal Democrat held. If we can work together to focus our resources to seats we can actually win (while not, as mentioned above, standing down candidates), and pick the battlegrounds between us, we can get the Tories out.

Now, there are some left wing parties who I absolutely agree we should not work with, such as the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, both of whose hard nationalist lines make their philosophies incompatible with liberal values, and of course all these ideas would also need Labour’s co-operation to work. However, I feel that since Labour’s hard left factions (such as Momentum) have lost their power – and, from what I understand, losing members as their subscribers leave the party – I foresee Labour being in a more co-operative mood. In any event, I would rather be in coalition with a Starmer-led Labour after the next election than have to put up with the Conservatives’ nonsense for five more years.

* Christopher Johnson is Vice-Chair of the Gwynedd and Anglesey Liberal Democrats, and Chair of the Bangor University Liberal Democrats. He ran for Bangor City Council in 2019.

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  • Steve Trevethan 6th Apr '20 - 9:23am

    Thanks for the article!
    As the state seems, at least partly, to exist to manage behaviours in its society, is it possible, in theory and/or practice, to have a “market” which is totally free?
    Are there any actual markets that are free?
    P.S. “Donut Economics” by Kate Raworth is a good read!

  • Julian Tisi 6th Apr '20 - 9:40am

    I’m struggling to see what exactly you’re proposing. Is it doing some deal with Labour to focus only on winnable seats? The danger of this approach is that it’s easy for the Tories to paint us as Labour-lite and this doesn’t help us win seats we need to and can win. It might be possible to have some under-the-radar non aggression pact in certain seats, should they agree, but I would be very sceptical about Labour’s intentions given their record against us in recent years.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Apr '20 - 10:13am

    Christopher Johnson | Mon 6th April 2020 – 8:47 am
    Yes we must relate to other parties, but the Single Transferable Vote as practised in the Republic of Ireland, in local elections in Northern Ireland and in local elections in Scotland, is not a proportional system. The point is to empower the individual voter. Proportional Representation usually means party list. Members elected that way have to play follow my leader, because in reality only the leader has been elected.
    When the New Labour government led by Tony Blair introduced PR by party list for the euro elections Alan Beith MP (former deputy leader) ask Jack Straw whether voters would be able to move their preferences up or down the list (as happens in some countries). Jack Straw said he would consult (presumably with his leader) and did not get a positive response for the obvious reason that individual democracy undermines the block vote and creates a problem for the Labour Party and for the Labour leadership. Imagine what would happen to them if someone like Jeremy Corbyn became influential! It could be a disaster for them.

  • Richard Underhill. 6th Apr '20 - 10:26am

    Now is the right time to review the decision about our own leadership election. Waiting for the virus issue to be over in the UK could take an unexpectedly long time. There is no certainty as to how long the problem will last. Suppose there is a vacancy in Hillingdon, or any seat near an airport.
    There is new news every day. Today the BBC announces that a tiger in the Bronx, New York, has Covid-19 from her keeper, ratified by a vet. What is the risk for other animals? We often see humans kissing their pet dogs. is it too alarmist to say that farmers are busy lambing now and will continue to do so for a month or more?
    Would trade negotiation about the safety of food be affected?

  • Laurence Cox 6th Apr '20 - 12:47pm


    This posting from the Political Betting web site puts the task for Labour in perspective:


    For Starmer to lead the Labour Party to an overall majority he will need a net gain of 124 seats (only beaten by Blair’s 1997 and Atlee’s 1945 victories). A minority government could be achieved with as little as 40 net gains as long as the Tories lose 55-60 seats. The sort of arrangement that Blair and Ashdown had, which was close but never formalised, is what we need to be looking for. It is unfortunate that we did not get our leadership election out of the way when we had the opportunity before the shutdown, as it will be be difficult for Ed Davey as Acting Leader to assure Keir Starmer that he can take our Party with him, while there remains the possibility of him being replaced in 2021. These sort of discussions need to be tightly confined if they are to succeed as there are enough tribalists on both sides who would be quite willing to see them fail.

    It is in Starmer’s interest as a Unionist to have an alternative to an arrangement with the SNP, who will surely make a second independence referendum one of their demands, and for this he needs to maximise both Labour and Lib Dem seat gains from the Tories. A Labour government must also ensure that it can command a majority in England alone, because of EVEL, otherwise it could find itself unable to pass England-only legislation.

  • Christopher appears unwilling to follow the logic of his own proposition.

    In a first past the post electoral system, if you are having a pre-election pact with one or more other parties, the inexorable logic is that the parties stand down candidates to avoid splitting their votes.

    To refuse to do that is to put some kind of nebulous purity ahead of actually seeking a share of governmental power.

  • Sue Sutherland 6th Apr '20 - 5:20pm

    Christopher, in your para 6 you describe a policy of wealth redistribution as socialist. In fact, Lloyd George introduced a redistributive budget in 1909 which he described as raising the money for an implacable war against poverty and squalidness. This is a war which we Lib Dem’s still need to wage today in order to produce the kind of society we want to achieve, by enabling all members of our national community to achieve their maximum potential. Socialists want to place wealth creation in the hands of the state but that isn’t a tenet of Liberalism.

  • @William Francis “A lib-lab pact will be essential if we are to gain more seats next election.”

    That’s the sound of thousands of membership cards being cut up, and voters deserting in droves.

  • Peter Hirst 7th Apr '20 - 10:59am

    A key word is complementary. We should define ourselves as similar to and complementary to Labour. If we can stake out our own set of values that both distinguishes us from and aligns us with it, we can carve out our own core vote and seek to move others to us. This is an ideal opportunity when Labour is deciding what stance to take.

  • David Garlick 7th Apr '20 - 5:51pm

    Triumph of hope over experience I wish you well if this is to be attempted but believe that it will be doomed to failure Labour don’t do pragmatism and will suffer at least one more GE defeat, probably two.

  • Mohammed Amin,

    If we stand down in Labour-Conservative marginals there is no guarantee that our voters would vote Labour. In 1997 I think there was an understanding and we didn’t put much effect into some seats and the Labour Party didn’t put much effect into others so both parties could maximise their gains. We gained 26 seats and Labour 145.

  • TCO – it’s pretty clear that the majority of Libdem members are left-leaning, whereas people like you are in the minority.

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