Why we have a duty to form an Alliance

In 2019 Boris Johnson won a landslide victory. It left him with total power to inflict a heartless Brexit. Our young people face barriers if they want to study or work in Europe. Many people have found their lives badly affected.

How did this happen? What lessons can be learned from the 2019 election?

Firstly, Boris offered certainty after several years of Brexit indecision. Voters knew what they would get if they voted for him. Some ‘remain’ voters just wanted things settled.

Secondly our electoral system rewards big parties. The Tories won only 44% of votes, but they were the biggest party and won easily.

We need to learn. Do voters understand what will happen if they vote Liberal Democrat in a General Election? Will the result be a small and powerless group of LibDem MPs? Will the party hold the balance of power in a hung parliament? Will that mean another period of parliamentary indecision? Will the Party horse trade some policies away with another party, as with tuition fees? Who knows?

By contrast, if the party set up an Alliance before the next General Election, and agreed a set of compromise policies with Labour and the Greens, voters would know what they were getting if they voted LibDem. That’s better for democracy, and it’s also more attractive to voters.

What would those policies be? Let’s go gently on Europe – people don’t want to restart that battle. Let’s restore cultural and student links. Let’s cut bureaucracy. Let’s start to re-align standards. Let’s not treat our near neighbours so badly.

Let’s focus on education. Let’s cut sleaze and outlaw cronyism. Let’s protect the environment. Let’s slowly increase taxes on the very rich. Let’s move slowly towards electoral reform, respecting public opinion. Let’s protect the NHS and BBC.

Let’s also agree up front on how the Alliance government would function smoothly, so that voters are assured we are ready to take office.

Given an agreed set of policies it makes no sense for the three parties to compete in each constituency. The parties would need to have just one candidate in each seat, perhaps selected by some form of Primary Election if the best candidate isn’t obvious.

This Alliance would offer strong competition to Johnson. The three parties together generally win more votes than he does. The Liberal Democrats would have a real chance of a share of power, on far less risky terms than in 2010.

Would Labour buy into this? Who knows if we don’t try? Even if we fail, being seen to have tried will win the party respect. People want to see initiatives, they want to see politicians putting country before party.

An Alliance government like this could do enormous good. It could heal the wounds left by Johnson’s cruel Brexit. It is perhaps the only way to hold the UK together. Most of all it could offer more fulfilling lives to millions of our young people. We have a duty to them, to democracy, and to our country to try our utmost to make this happen.

* Cllr John Shoesmith has been a party member for five years. He was elected onto Duffield Parish Council in 2019, when the Liberal Democrats went from zero to six members, displacing the Conservatives.

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  • David Evershed 28th Jun '21 - 1:06pm

    A “progressive alliance” with the Labour Party would show we hate the Conservative Party more than we love the Liberal Democrats.

    Not a good basis to attract votes or supporters.

  • In 2019 voters were scared of backing us because they thought it might let someone who managed to be even more incompetent, venal and self-serving than Boris into number ten – Jeremy.

    I’m not sure tying ourselves to the dubious leadership choices of the Labour Party even more firmly next time around fixes that kind of problem.

  • Kay Kirkham 28th Jun '21 - 2:32pm

    I venture to suggest that there is a lot of evidence from C&A and other places that the electorate can cast a tactical vote of their own volition without the need for alliances. Labour will not play ball any way and tying ourselves to them in a formal alliance will simply allienate potential Conservative voters in exactly that same way as the coalition in 2010 alientated Labour supporters.

  • William Wallace 28th Jun '21 - 2:51pm

    The 1997 election saw a lot of tactical voting without any formal alliance, let alone inter-party negotiations about which seats to stand down in. But we only need some form of informal understanding in 50-75 seats to overturn the Tory majority. And that’s not impossible. In 2019 some Labour activists actively campaigned in our target seats to damage our chances; the absence of such efforts in itself would help us win more seats. In any event, the Conservatives are likely to look much less appealing in a year’s time, as the Johnson effect continues to wear off as events and hard choices bear in on him. So there’s no need to be TOO gloomy at present. Cheer up, and deliver some more leaflets!

  • William Wallace 28th Jun '21 - 2:57pm

    One of the most cheering aspects of Chesham and Amersham is the continuing confidence we can gather from the quality of our candidates: I hadn’t met Sarah Green before, but she impressed both the voters and the media from the outset. As voters become more volatile from one election to another, candidate quality will count more – and the Conservatives will lose from that, including from the low quality of many sitting MPs. We have some superb candidates, a high proportion of them women; we should give them all the support we can.

  • Barry Lofty 28th Jun '21 - 2:59pm

    To be honest the majority of people on this site, I believe, are united in in their opposition to this present populist government and would welcome some sort of progressive alignment to be formed to replace them, I also would desire this but in the short to medium term it seems unlikely to happen. Perhaps the only relatively short term solution would be that as Johnson’s government grows more and more unpopular and the next election fails to give them such a commanding majority that it gives all party’s more power in the governance of the country, including more centrist Tory MPs. A situation that would encourage more inter party dialogue?

  • Let’s go gently on Europe…

    By Europe I assume you mean the EU which covers just 40% of Europe by area and doesn’t include the four largest European cities.

    – people don’t want to restart that battle.

    And then you go on to advocate doing just that.

    Let’s restore cultural and student links.

    Erasmus? At whatever price the EU organisation demands? For just 0.5% of our students? Those billions are much better spent elsewhere. The government wanted to remain in Erasmus – it was one of David Frost’s negotiating objectives. The EU just saw it as another opportunity to blackmail us.

    Let’s start to re-align standards.

    Not many votes in lowering our food standards to those of the EU…

    ‘EU to lift its ban on feeding animal remains to domestic livestock’ [June 2021]:

    A ban on farm feed made of animal remains introduced during the BSE crisis is to be lifted in the EU to allow cheap pig protein to be fed to chickens over fears that European farmers are being undercut by lower standards elsewhere. […]

    The UK continues to ban the use of PAP in the feed of farm animals. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK is committed to maintaining the highest animal welfare and biosecurity standards, and following our departure from the EU there is no legal obligation for us to implement any of these changes.

  • Jenny Barnes 28th Jun '21 - 3:58pm

    Before everyone gets too excited about a PA, read this.

    In my locality, many of the Labour activists were expelled from the party for countenancing an alliance. However, we carried on, agreeing council candidates with the Greens, and many ex-Labour folk helped the combined campaign – and so we overturned Tory majorities at Parish & Borough level, and made a big dent in their County majority. So it can work, but I think it has to be bottom up.

  • It isn’t our ‘duty’ to limit voters’ choice in any given constituency. Let them make their own decisions.
    Would Labour buy into this? The idea of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ needs the caveat ‘for as long as it suits them, then you’d better start watching your back’.

  • An acquaintance who was a Labour Candidate at the last election is anything but progressive. He just doesn’t recognise that we exist. I expect there is a fair few like him. Just wrapped up in his own small world.

  • Graham Jeffs 28th Jun '21 - 6:16pm

    David Evershed – I think your comment sums it up. A Progressive Alliance is cloud-cuckoo land.

  • Paul Barker 28th Jun '21 - 6:18pm

    Theres a phrase sometimes used by Mathematicians & Physicists – “Not even wrong.” Its used for people who arent even asking the Right questions let alone coming up with the Right answers.

    Labour could decide not to put National Resources into Seats where its Libdems Vs Tories, that would be in their own interests but it would run against Labour policy over most of their existence. They were sensible in 1997 & won a landslide, they may be sensible again but the more people talk about a Progressive Alliance the harder it makes it.

    Perhaps The LDV Team might ask themselves if we have wasted enough time & energy on this topic for now & have a temporary moratorium on Progressive Alliance pieces ?

  • David Evans 28th Jun '21 - 6:42pm

    I agree with Paul Barker.

  • Russell Simpson 28th Jun '21 - 6:42pm

    Let’s move fast in electoral reform. No referendum required if MPs and votes (with suitable manifesto wording) gets 51%. And stop calling Johnson “Boris”!

  • John Marriott 28th Jun '21 - 7:20pm

    Will the ‘Progressive Alliance’ join such juicy subjects as LVT, UBI, EU membership etc in the Pantheon of Lib Dem ‘Dreams/Obsessions’? The trouble is that, every time the opportunity occurs to get what you want, eg a referendum on voting reform or an opportunity to work out a more equitable relationship with the EU, we just blow it.

    I also agree with Paul Barker and would add a few other pet subjects to the list. I am reminded of the advice PM Clement Attlee offered to a rather stroppy Harold Laski after WW2, namely that “ a period of silence on your part would be welcome”.

  • Any alliance{which I think unlikely} should be bottom up with next years locals a starting point. With the Greens it could be more important as they hinder us winning over soft Labour.

  • James Fowler 28th Jun '21 - 10:24pm

    @Paul Barker: ‘Not even asking the right questions’ – absolutely spot on re: this topic. I sense a desperate, almost wild, self harming desire to do anything, anything, to hurt the current government, even things that obviously lead nowhere. Let’s put the PA discussion to bed.

  • Delivering good morning leaflets in the 1983 GE on a council estate in Hazel Grove, I bumped into two Labour councillors doing the same for their candidate.
    I got a very frosty response, muttering dark threats to the SDP.
    They got the result they wanted, the Tories held Hazel Grove, the Liberal candidate 2,000 votes behind, Labour a very poor third.
    Most Labour people are of the same disposition nowadays, even Blair in 1997 wanted us to merge with Labour.

  • Helen Dudden 29th Jun '21 - 9:33am

    I’ve just been agreeing with safe driving limits within the EU on my Twitter site, that deals with international issues on disability. I asked if they minded my comments, and I was happily accepted.
    I’ve also spoken with a Labour Councillor on accessible housing, as in some Local Authorities they are going that little bit farther.
    I feel by only working together do we maker change happen, the Conservative Party excluded at this time.

  • James Fowler: Why wouldn’t people be desperate to hurt this government, no matter how bad they perform they seem bullet proof at the moment??

  • “The parties would need to have just one candidate in each seat, perhaps selected by some form of Primary Election if the best candidate isn’t obvious.”

    The easiest way to implement this would be to disband the Lib Dem party and have all its MPs, Councillors, members, etc. defect to Labour. Then, the normal candidate selection process could be used to select a candidate – with negotiated terms of defection, of course, protecting Lib Dem incumbents, requiring a former Lib Dem to be selected for seats you came second in 2019, and ensuring certain manifesto commitments. This would also make it very clear that Labour and the Lib Dems were on the same side in the coming election, and ensure that questions from the left of “what about the coalition?” or “is this compatible with LD-Con alliances at a local council level?” were finally put to rest permanently.

    It would be possible to achieve the same effect without a formal merger, of course, but it would involve a lot more arguments and the voters would get the same choice in the end, so it clearly makes sense to do it this way.

    No? Well, that’s why a “progressive alliance” is never going to work, either.

  • I think Tim Farron’s piece in the New Statesman is worth reading. I agree especially about the point he makes, that the voters aren’t transferable blocks for their leaders to arrogantly move around.


  • Agree a very good article by Tim Farron.

  • Anders Hanson 29th Jun '21 - 2:19pm

    For any progressive alliance to happen the onus is very much on Labour to both agree to it and to support some form of electoral reform. Both of which I think are extremely unlikely.

    We shouldn’t forget though that many in both Labour and Greens don’t see us as progressive. My popular former Green MEP is extremely disparaging about us and sees the pact between us and them at the last election as a tactical error by his party but would happily work with Labour.

    For me, Chesham & Amersham and many pre-coalition general elections show that a non-aggression pact is often more effective than standing down candidates.

  • With the very greatest respect, after all the self hurt this party has imposed upon itself in the last 11 years, can we please , please forget talk about this alliance, lets stop being politically naive.

  • Re: Tim Farrons article

    He makes some good points but he equates the Progessive Alliance with standing aside candidates.

    However there are broadly 3 options:

    1) Not standing against each other
    2) Fielding paper candidates only but formally agreeing not to campaign in certain seats
    3) An informal “understanding” 1997 style

    TF favours no 3 but that is also a form of PA.

    I argue for no 2 because I think that strikes the right balance between allowing anyone to vote for the party they want to but also showing a firm commitment to an anti-Tory pact which will be necessary to win over Labour tactical voters.

  • James Fowler 29th Jun '21 - 4:16pm

    @Barry Lofty. I want to get rid of this government too. However, in my view too much opposition to them at the moment consists of charging headlong at them shouting that they’re stupid, racist, dangerous and wrong, using cultural and emotional reference points to magnetise opinion. This causes their waverers to close ranks with their core loyalists, and undecideds to stand back watch the melee as neutrals. To bring them crashing down we have to persuade some them to change sides, and most of the undecideds that we’re a better bet. I think we need to be careful of visceral responses to Johnson’s government, not least because they are equally, if not better, adept at creating resonant emotional messages. My sense is that Johnson’s support is very broad, and very shallow. The electoral worm will turn fastest when the alternative presented is rational and non-threatening.

  • Barry Lofty 29th Jun '21 - 4:35pm

    James Fowler: I don’t deny an understanding of your valid points but, speaking for myself, I have a long distaste for Johnson, his morals, his lies, his incompetence, need I go on, that I find it almost impossible not attack his brand of politics that so undermines our country. None of us are perfect, but there is a limit.

  • Antony Watts 29th Jun '21 - 11:14pm

    For me it is simple. Any policy must be people based. That is it must give us benefits. And the biggest of those would be the restoration of our EU Citizenship as is now and updated as and when.

    The one thing most people miss is the freedom of movement – the ability to just go to Europe and travel around and settle and work.

  • I don’t think we can guarantee that voters will react as we might want. The majority in Britain are progressive, always, though the right is noisy and strident at the moment.

    The only way an ‘alliance’ could work is behind the scenes with parties not fighting hard in Tory seats vulnerable to one or the other. There’s no point agreeing a policy platform because Labour won’t budge (never have never will) but if the Tories can be eroded sufficiently then you might see a Labour led government relying on others for support. This should only be given for an immediate change to the electoral system that can’t be revoked. They might anyway prefer to deal with the Greens, SNP or SDLP in the first instance. None of this should stop us doing what we can to erode the Tory ‘majority’ in the House, and as I keep saying, it should be called out as an undemocratic majority much more – it is!

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jun '21 - 7:07pm

    We don’t need to rush into any progressive alliance. I have just been looking at the Boundary Commission for England 2023 review of constituency boundaries and that ends by 1st July 2023. Electoral Calculus is predicting a gain of 15 seats for the Tories and a loss of 4 seats for Labour in England from the boundary changes (England as a whole gains 10 seats, while Scotland loses 2 and Wales 8). Under the FTPA the next General Election is on 2nd May 2024. An autumn 2023 election is just about possible, or repealing the FTPA might allow the Government to go up to 5 years from the date of the last General Election (which was the position before the FTPA) which would give them up to December 2024. Either way, we don’t need to think about an early General Election, which is the only reason for considering a progressive alliance now.

  • @ Laurence Cox “We don’t need to rush into any progressive alliance”.

    I wouldn’t count any chickens just yet, Mr Cox. It’s in Johnson’s character to show more interest in what he takes to be his party’s advantage than on anything else. You’ll probably find the following item on his bed time reading list parked next to his two Union Jacks, white helmet and yellow flack jacket ………

    “Repealing the Fixed-term Parliaments Act: https://committees.parliament.uk › committee › news 24 Mar 2021……. In December 2020, the Government confirmed plans to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and published a short draft bill with proposals to reinstate the pre-2011 system. A draft set of principles designed to underpin the legal framework for dissolving Parliament was also published. The Joint Committee was established to carry out a Statutory Review of the Act; and to consider and report on the Government’s draft Bill”.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Jun '21 - 10:48pm

    Who’s been rattling your cage, Mr Raw? Shouldn’t you be concerning yourself with what’s going on in Scotland, where thanks largely to the devolved Government doing nothing to stop mainly young Scotsmen coming down to London for the footie, you now have a surge in covid cases that is 60% up on the January peak already, according to the BBC: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-57667163

    A rather different attitude from when they stopped Mancunians travelling to Scotland.

  • I’m sorry, but I fail to see the relevance of your comments to the question of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and the possibility of a Progressive Alliance, Mr Cox.

  • Laurence Cox 1st Jul '21 - 11:54am


    Mr Raw seems to delight in taking issue with any comment I make, regardless of whether he knows anything about the subject or not. I just felt like a bit of ‘whataboutery’ in response this time.

    @David Raw

    A General Election before the Boundary Commission’s final report would, at not much over three years since the 2019 election, be abnormally early by any standards for a Government with a healthy overall majority. It will be interesting to see how long it takes Mr Johnson to get his Bill to repeal the FTPA through Parliament. As the Government’s Draft Bill has just completed pre-legislative scrutiny (May 2021) it is unlikely that such a complex bill (the Government’s response to the points made by the Joint Committee runs to 22 pages) could be on the Statute Book before the autumn of 2022 at the earliest. The danger with prioritising this Bill for parliamentary time is that it takes away sitting days from other legislation that the Government will want to put through that will have a much greater effect on public perceptions than this dry constitutional change.

  • Peter Hirst 4th Jul '21 - 1:41pm

    We certainly need to depose the Conservative Party at the next election and that will be under FPTP. Some sort of arrangement will be necessary to do this. The Lib Dem vote at Batley and Spen suggest our supporters are already voting with their feet. Some direction from the top would help to suage consciences and reduce any fall out amongst our members.

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