Why we don’t need a “remain alliance”

As somebody who joined the Liberal Democrats primarily to fight Brexit, I have since come to appreciate even greater the importance of fighting for liberal democratic values. What’s more, it is evidently how important this is for the entirety of the United Kingdom.

I used to be more sympathetic towards electoral pacts, in fact, at one time I was well on board with it. I’m still desperate to stop Brexit and so disappointed at what the leave campaigns achieved; especially as my wife is a EU citizen with only EU treaty rights currently protecting her status in the U.K. This really hurt us both and fuelled me to do what I could to stop Brexit. I am also thinking of my twin brother, Eddie (some here may know him), who is now living in France.

However, an article Mark Pack published titled “Standing for election isn’t just about winning”, encouraged me to stand as a paper candidate in the local elections and removed any doubt from me that electoral pacts are a bad idea. It drove home to me the importance of standing in every seat we can. This way we can build our core vote, keep track of potential target areas and give voters the choice they need for the good of democracy.

After all, if people cannot vote Lib Dem, what is the chance they will join? Or simply just lose the habit of voting for us? It could destroy our local bases for a long time.

I am aware that people have pointed towards past success for electoral pacts but is this a viable long term plan for a party of government? I am sceptical. Given our recent electoral successes; we are clearly the party for remaining in the EU, for the environment, for the economy and for liberal values.

This does not mean that we can’t run local councils together or work cross party in Parliament through all party parliamentary groups and through the likes of More United.

Considering Change UK are now polling at family and friends levels, the only other party left standing in England for the so called “remain alliance” are the Greens, who don’t have control of a single council and have only one MP. They aren’t even interested in it and have been vehemently attacking us at national level. Do we really need them? I’m not sure our voters are so easily interchangeable for the intended effect. I think this is different to campaigning as a pre-planned coalition in a PR voting system.

Then what about Plaid Cymru or SNP? Do you really think that our voters would switch to nationalist parties on mass rather than Labour or Conservatives? I am not so convinced. I urge people to reconsider electoral pacts and save the cross party co-operation for common goals once elected into parliament or local councils. I would be happy to be proved wrong.

* Michael Sammon is a member of Southport Liberal Democrats and stood as a paper candidate in Bootle this year in the local elections.

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30 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jun '19 - 12:21pm

    An electoral pack is only needed because we have a voting system where if two similar candidates are standing and what they stand for is what the majority wants, they can split the vote and let a candidate who does not stand for it win.

    So why can’t we come out and make that clear? Why were we unable to explain it when we actually had a referendum to deal with this issue, so the people voted against dealing with it?

  • Meh, it’s all a bit tribalistic. A lot of non-Lib-Dem remainers would love some form of electoral pact if circumstances were such that a General Election could stop Brexit. Such a pact does not imagine that the Greens (for example) and Lib Dems have or could have a joint policy platform on all sorts of issues. Brexit is a singular issue. But an extremely important one. It is very much the exception to the rule of tribalistic party politics. Yet here we are, saying that we shouldn’t have a pact.

    I think there are two fundamental issues facing the UK for which (electoral) pacts should be considered. Brexit and electoral reform. Brexit is an existential threat, in my view. Electoral reform is not but is fundamental to making the UK a modern democracy and to making it possible that forever more there can be a serious Liberal Democrat influence in government – something that FPTP will always prevent. I have no illusions about magic wholesale changes in voting patterns until we get reform.

    Those two fundamental issues in my view require pacts. Pacts only for their sake and not for any wider purpose or goal.

    What was depressing was Ed Davey’s recent remarks reported in the Observer if I recall correctly. Ed conflated “Remain” with a “liberal movement”. I for one, having been waiting since my first vote in 1987 to get a change to PR. We need pacts and this needs to be sorted on both fundamental issues. And then, afterwards, forever more, we will be fighting against those (e.g. Greens) with whom we might have made such a pact of convenience. Banging on about core liberal values and saying that Remainers should join the Lib Dems is a bit silly if they are not Liberals or Social Democrats.

    Oh, and I’m also tired of the game of “see which other party’s first make negative noises so that we can jump on them and big ourselves up”. What a no-win game.

  • The Lib Dems, Labour and the SNP worked together to block the recommendations of the independent Boundary Commision in 2013. The Lib Dems seem happy to work with other parties to ensure passive gerrymandering.

  • David Becket 12th Jun '19 - 1:26pm

    @Teejay. If you are going to write sly comments on this site please get your facts right.
    Lib Dems were prepared to support this, even though the Tories were likely to benefit.
    Nick Clegg introduced a House of Lords Reform Bill to bring democracy to the Lords. It was killed by 91 backbench Tory MPs. As a result we withdrew our support for the Boundary Commission proposal. The two reforms should have gone together.

  • The key thing here is that local parties should make these decisions. I have no problem with a LD/Green alliance in Brighton or Richmond if that’s what the local parties there decide. But it’s not something we’ll be doing anytime soon in Scotland, where the Greens are nationalists first and environmentalists second.

  • Paul Barker 12th Jun '19 - 4:16pm

    We don’t Just need a short-term Remain Alliance, we need a long-term “Progressive” Alliance, one that could take us through a General Election & Five Years of Government.
    The need for an Alliance/Pact/Umbrella arrangement becomes clear if we look at the most recent Polls, we have 4 “Main” Parties all within 3% of each other; that looks like an inherently unstable situation.
    Then we have The Greens on 9-10%. Add our Votes to The Greens & even if we lose some “Tribal” Voters & dont gain any extra Votes from those who actually like the idea of Parties working together, Our New Alliance would take a clear lead in The Polls. That in itself would transform British Politics.
    I know that someone the media insists on calling The “Green Leader” has made some remarks recently, ranging from the childish to the batshit crazy but as far as I can see no-one else in The Green “Leadership” seems to have echoed them. Sian Berry is not The Green Party, she’s not even their Leader because they dont have one.
    I suppose any real Talks will have to wait till the 24th of July but we can think about these things seriously starting now.

  • For Paul Barker: you refer to a Progressive Alliance which very much gives the impression that it’s an alliance based on a whole raft of common ideas. But this isn’t the case for Brexit/Remain. It’s a singular issue. As is electoral reform.

    Unless we are serious about a continuing arrangement and having serious talks with other parties about that (as with the SDP/Liberal alliance), then we should not be using such terms.

    We’ve proved that the Lib Dems can get over 50 seats and get into government under FPTP albeit with insufficient clout to do quite enough. We don’t need an electoral pact as a crutch to keep us afloat. What we do need is an electoral pact which will deliver more seats not just for us as a party but for a particular imperative objective, such that there is enough influence in Parliament to realise that objective without fail. We need to disable the two-party system and guarantee that a subsequent election will be under PR. If something happens such that Brexit is delayed again (seems unlikely but we can’t predict) and there’s a general election, we need to make sure that under FPTP the number of seats for Remain is maximised.

    When we get Proportional Representation the political landscape of the UK will change dramatically. We really can’t say who our natural allies beyond that would be or whether we would actually need any allies at all.

  • Wrong. Just look at the latest polls and imagine how well we could do, working alongside the Greens (and any of CUK who care to join in) if we could bring even half of the Green vote in addition to our own.

  • There are many cases where electoral pacts would be wrong, but definitely some scenarios where it is worth-while. IMO, the decision must ultimately rest with the local party and consider local factors, but I think it would be helpful for there to be some general guidelines on how and when it would or would not be appropriate. Clearly, some commonality is a requirement, but we should only work with candidates who publicly support and work towards electoral reform. After all, we are only pushed into denying voters choice because of FPTP, and we should be clear when talking about pacts that this is the real reason packs are required.

    I agree with the suggestion we shouldn’t even think about standing against Caroline Lucas, and theoretically supportive of not standing against the existing pro-EU independents, so long as we can persuade them to declare for electoral reform and certain other policies.

    There are a lot of pros and cons with electoral pacts, and I think they are often easier to admire from afar when you’ve not had run-ins with the local activists. But one of pros of a pact with Green party members is that it underlines that we do have very solid environmental credentials, which is a message we’ve struggled to communicate in recent years, and if we have enough of these pacts, it might just encourage some of their activists to focus their ire on the other parties, giving us a break.

  • Glad something I wrote helped encourage you to get stuck in – and hope that turns into great things!

  • Well, I hope tonight’s vote shows this party where the ‘real’ enemy lies.

    Tories cheering the defeat of the cross party attempt to prevent a no-deal brexit; a scenario that Industry has described a, ‘commercial suicide’

    The idea that parliament could be trusted with this country’ future has become an illusion.

    Where is the exit door?

  • Paul Barker 12th Jun '19 - 8:01pm

    Clearly any Progressive Alliance would need a set of principles/ minimal program but we already have the workings of that. The Greens already agree with us on Electoral Reform, Devolution of power to Local/Regional government, Immigration, lots of “Green” measures & Human Rights. Thats more than enough to occupy a Government for its first Term.
    It would be nice to have 60 MPs again, we could hold the balance of power again because that went so well for us last time, didn’t it ?
    At a time when the Old 2 Party System is breaking up before our eyes we should have bigger ambitions than making bad Governments less bad or being a nuisance to The various Establishments. Britain needs Liberals in charge at Westminster & for the first time in more than a Century we have that possibility, if we can think big enough & drop the tribalism.

  • The topic of standing down Lib Dem candidates is a frequent one on this forum. Yet failure to put up candidates is rarely mentioned. In last month’s local elections there were around 2000 seats where the voters only had the choice between Lobour or Conservative. Lib Dems/Greens/Independents all failed to put up candidates!

  • @ Paul Barker “Clearly any Progressive Alliance would need a set of principles/ minimal program but we already have the workings of that. The Greens already agree with us on Electoral Reform, Devolution of power to Local/Regional government, Immigration, lots of “Green” measures & Human Rights. That’s more than enough to occupy a Government for its first Term”.

    It all sounds great fun and very jolly, Paul. I know that’s a lot for 60 MP’s to think about but do you think they might find time to have a good go at inequality and poverty as described in Philip Alston’s UN Report ?

    [PDF]Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston …
    https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Poverty/EOM_GB_16Nov2018.pdf
    16 Nov 2018 – Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations .. .org.uk/MEASURING-POVERTY-FULL_REPORT.pdf, p.

  • Expats,
    The Tories may have cheered but they wouldn’t have been able to without the help of
    Kevin Barron.
    Ronnie Campbell.
    Jim Fitzpatrick.
    Caroline Flint.
    Stephen Hepburn.
    Kate Hoey.
    John Mann.

    Now I wonder what Jeremy will do about them, not much I fear.

  • Michael Sammon 12th Jun '19 - 11:55pm

    Appreciate the comments, thanks. Let’s keep the momentum going and stand everywhere we can. Remember it is not party before country because we aren’t pursuing a bad policy for votes. I don’t think we can drop vast swathes of our supporters. A liberal candidate is always good for democracy. Good luck whatever you decide is best.

  • Mark Sherratt 13th Jun '19 - 10:52am

    As someone who lives in a pro-Brexit, working class city with no Lib Dem party (there was one but it was closer to a Labour splinter group and it’s top leaders eventually joined Labour) I would very much favour the Greens being given a run at making inroads which they are more likely to achieve given their left leaning policies.

    There are no doubt places all over the UK where LibDems have no real history of success and likewise for the Greens.

    What better way to head off the Brexit Party in left-wing areas than by offering them candidates to share their views but who back Remain. I’m convinced a significant chunk of BXP support is against the established big two’ parties. The Greens are better placed to argue that BXP is full of toffs and the wealthy and undeserving of working class votes.

    Nobody is suggesting for a moment that Lib Dems should stand aside in areas with a proven record for winning (national or council level)

  • Question for Mark: how do you know it is a Pro Brexit area today? Derby is a classic example of where local polling has shown a major shift to a Remain majority. This is one of the most frustrating things about the debate, we are all seemingly basing assumptions on events 3 years ago. I do not know what would happen if there was a vote tomorrow, most think Remain would win but for all I know Leave may get a bigger majority. We simply do not know. It makes the need for another referendum imperative.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jun '19 - 11:42am

    Thanks for your concern for UK citizens resident in other EU member states. Financial services passporting rights are also particularly important to me as I have been advised that I need them in order to advise people living on the continent.

    On electoral pacts: I was in favour of them with Change UK but those who remain seem hostile to us, so what is the point.

  • Richard O'Neill 13th Jun '19 - 2:40pm

    At the moment Lib Dem focus should be on maximising the vote across the country to become a national party as pre-2010 rather than being trapped in regional pockets and retreating into a sectional appeal to certain voters.

    Greens generally don’t seem warm to Liberals. Always the question with pacts is, if you agree on so much form a single party. I do think it a pipe dream to imagine a Green/Lib Dem alliance could form a government in the foreseeable future. Holding the balance of power in a hung parliament is much more likely. And the DUP have shown how it can be done skilfully.

  • Michael Sammon 13th Jun '19 - 8:25pm

    Richard O’Neil, yes I think you’re right. Good point on the DUP.
    Rod, I think the issue is there just isn’t enough to unite us all to stand on a joint manifesto. Overall I think it’s too damaging from where we are now to stand down when we have candidates available. We still need more candidates especially for local elections nevermind standing down.

  • David Becket 13th Jun '19 - 8:49pm

    I can see little point in working with Change, or rather “The Independent Group For Change” (that trips off the tongue!) who are so disorganised they cannot get their name right, they are not going anywhere.

  • Electoral pacts like tactical voting are a symptom of our broken electoral system. When we move to a more proportionate voting system like STV that includes preferential voting there will be no need for these tactics. Until then the debate will continue.

  • Peter Hirst. We don’t need a system “Like STV”. We need STV full stop.
    No other PR system puts voters in control, rather than parties.
    We should make STV for all UK elections this a 100% red line ion ever we get into a position to negotiate a place in government.
    It’s long past time that our party stopped playing around with other PR systems and made STV THE system we want and no other.

  • Mark Sherratt 14th Jun '19 - 10:45am

    @theakes

    The area I’m talking about is Stoke-on-Trent which voted 69.4% for Brexit in the referendum. Obviously nobody knows what the current percentage would be but I highly doubt the percentage is now less than 50%

    But that wasn’t my point, this is a very working class left-leaning area, three former Labour safe seats and an area that had significant UKIP support back in their heyday.

    There is currently no active local party instead the semblance of a party is created by a long standing member of the neighbouring area.

    So do you put forward another paper candidate at the next election or do you stand aside and give the Greens a clear run who at least can lean on their more socialist policies to attract disaffected and unhappy voters who are considering either voting BxP or staying at home.

    @DavidBeckett knows the area (being in a neighboring council area) I wonder what his view would be given he is in an area where LibDem and Green have historically competed with each other.

  • David Becket 14th Jun '19 - 12:12pm

    @Mark Sherratt
    Staffordshire is not a promising area for Lib Dems. We have had periods of success in Newcastle and Moorlands, but Brexit has put paid to that. We had a period of Green activity in Newcastle, but due to personalities it would have been very difficult to work with, so in Newcastle we competed. One Lib Dem did join them, and is now independent and no longer a councillor.

    In Stoke this year seven Greens stood and no Lib Dems, so there was no competition between Lib Dems and Greens. The Greens came at, or very near, the bottom of the poll. In the traditional Labour town of Stoke the Tories run the council with support from the Independents.
    Stoke has suffered from the loss/decline of its three industries, Pottery, Steel, Mining. In an area that tends to be insular it is easy to blame somebody else, and the EU is an easy target. In the current atmosphere it will be poor pickings for both Lib Dems and Greens with little chance of them working together.

  • John Littler 15th Jun '19 - 5:57pm

    Finding a one off programme to stand on with Greens, Change UK and maybe even Plaid or Labour and even the SNP could look interesting to the electorate and be more than the sum of the parts. People want change and finding a broader means of delivering it could work. It has certainly worked with the Greens in certain areas.
    All want proper PR voting, an elected Upper House, a reformed, less adversarial voting chamber, to promote green issues, and except for some labour people, all want to stop brexit. That is easily enough issues for people to think about.
    If the Tories and the Brexit Party do get into a pre-election pact as mooted, a Progressive Alliance might be the best means of countering it.

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