Why the Liberal Democrats are right to stand against Labour

Standing for public office on behalf of the Liberal Democrats is a team game, not a solo enterprise.

There’s a lot that rests behind that simple point. One is about candidate support: they may be the front person, but the rest of us are the team who should be supporting and helping them.

Another is about campaign choices: what one candidate chooses to do or say has an impact on others, standing elsewhere. That’s why I’m in the millimetre-perfect camp of bar charting: it’s right in principle, but also right as a team player because what you put out in your campaign can get quoted back to your colleagues standing elsewhere.

That’s why for me one of the red lines in any discussions about whether the party should stand in particular seats is that the decisions need to be made by the team, not the individual. What one person, or one local party, decides to do has implications for everyone else. All those volunteers slogging their guts out in other election campaigns deserve to have their perspectives and interests taken into account to.

There are definitely things the party needs to learn about how the Unite to Remain talks and consultations were carried out internally. But the basic approach – that the party overall agrees a package – was the right one.

That’s why therefore it’s regrettable if an individual Lib Dem PPC decides unilaterally to stand down. If someone feels strongly that standing in a seat is the wrong move, then, of course, they’re free not to go for selection and even also to decide to quietly spend their time campaigning in another seat.

But once you decide to opt in to being a member of the team of candidates, then there’s an onus of respecting that in what you then do next.

That matters of course at the moment in particular because any Lib Dem candidate who pulls out in favour of Labour is, in addition, doing three other things.

First, they risk making it much harder for their colleagues contesting other seats to win. Quite simply, giving the Conservatives the opportunity to say in all the many Lib Dem – Conservative battles to say ‘the Lib Dems are standing aside for Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate’ is making the work of those fellow candidates, their volunteer teams and their staff colleagues much harder. The bitter irony is that by doing that, the risk is that the net effect will be to reduce the number of Remain MPs in Parliament.

Second, they are taking a huge gamble over Britain’s place in the EU. Don’t forget what Labour’s policy is: it is to have a referendum in which Jeremy Corbyn has – repeatedly and directly – kept open the option of him campaigning for Britain to leave the EU. Labour’s policy is one that deliberately leaves open the choice of a Labour PM campaigning (cheered on, of course, by the right-wing Tory Brexiters) to leave the EU. That’s not the policy of a party fully committed to Remain.

Third, racism is abhorrent. We need to stand up to it. I know many people in the Labour party have struggled with the conflicting pulls of their own party loyalty and the macabre reality that the Labour Party’s own record is now so shockingly poor that it is under official investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. But if someone is choosing to stand under the Labour name, they are choosing to stand in the name of a party that has failed so badly on racism. Remember, the EHRC isn’t exactly a body to investigate political parties lightly. In fact, the EHRC and its predecessor has only ever investigated one other political party: the BNP. Which means simply saying ‘let’s not stand and let’s support Labour instead’ comes with a heavy cost in terms of what it says to the victims, friends and colleagues of such racism.

Where seat deals have been mutually negotiated with parties that are fully committed to Remain and who are not under investigation by the ECHR then, of course, the above doesn’t apply.

As for Labour…

If Labour had been willing to have seat talks, who knows where they would have ended up – though any mutual deals would have at least provide a benefit to help cancel out the drawbacks above and could have been limited only to candidates clearly committed to Remain and to implementing the EHRC’s recommendations.

But Labour spurned talks and instead has gone for the snobbery and privileged route of saying – you’re awful, we hate you, we won’t talk to you… but we expect you to do just what we want.

They’re free to behave in such an elitist way if they wish. And we are absolutely free to respond, ‘no thank you’.

Two links of relevance to the above:


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34 responses to “Why the Liberal Democrats are right to stand against Labour”

    • It’s the right one.

      We have the organisational and financial capacity to win the seat. Gauke doesn’t and his personal vote will give him no more than a couple of thousand votes at best.

      The situation is different with Grieve because of our relative lack of organisational capacity in the seat.

  1. Mark, I have the misfortune to disagree with you on the Canterbury question, without in anyway wishing to detract from the general points which you have made so powerfully.

    The Labour Party, as we know, is in a state of internal conflict, and some of the combatants are unequivocally on our side when it comes to the Brexit issue. If a local party or candidate with little chance of winning decides to step aside in favour of someone with an impeccable record on Brexit, our attitude ought to be, “The Labour party is a disgrace, but we will make an exception for you because there are some issues which are too important for us to reject allies.” The effect would not be to tar us with Corbyn’s brush, but to increase the pressure on Corbyn either to reciprocate in kind or to show his true colours, and thereby justify us in refusing to repeat the gesture.

    • Without any quid pro quo Liberal Democrats should not be standing down to help Labour. Have you heard if Labour are standing down in say Montgomeryshire to allow the Lib Dems to win? No? I thought not:-)

  2. This is all very well, but the simple fact of the matter is that if people want to stop Brexit, which is after all the main reason that almost anyone is voting Lib Dem, then that can only be done if Labour wins in Labour/Tory marginals. And then it is going to require the LibDems and Labour to reach some sort of agreement. There is absolutely no point in trying to persuade people otherwise. For one thing it is dishonest. For another it is not credible. The current strategy is a losing one. Making some gesture of cooperation to the Labour Party would have the advantage of making the Lib Dems look much more attractive to Labour supporters in Tory / Lib Dem marginals. Here’s a suggestion of an opening gesture. Why not make an offer to support the Labour candidate in Hartlepool if they deselect Mike Hill, and put up a pro Peoples’ vote candidate who promises to implement the EHRC recommendations? In Hartlepool the Brexit Party are set to defeat Labour. It is surely not so controversial to send the signal that the Liberal Democrats regard the Brexit Party as more odious than Labour.

  3. There is an assumption from the candidate and some commenters that standing down helps Labour in Labour / Tory marginals. There is a large pool of one-nation conservatives who will never vote for a Corbyn-led Labour party but will vote for us. Voters who are only voting on Europe will vote for the remainer they think can win. Target your message correctly and you can easily take more votes off the Tories than Labour.

  4. In the best of world’s all the above would be correct but we do not live in that wonderful utopia, the truth is Jeremy Corbyn has absolutely no intention to work sensibly with the Liberal Democrats and has shown his credentials over many years, we must go on and work with people who are genuine like minded remainers.

  5. If we can stand aside for Dominic Grieve, why can’t we stand aside for Gauke? And HQ should listen to the views of the local party in the case of Canterbury. I am appalled at the ‘principle’ rigidity which may well risk letting a Tory in against arch-Remainer Rosie Duffield, and thus decrease the chance of a second referendum.

    • Gauke has voted for Theresa May’s WA. And only support a 2nd ref against Johnson’s deal because he considers it is so toxic & far from what was promised in the referendum that voters shou6have a 2nd vote. Grieve has never voted for May’s deal and fully support a 2nd deal. He is unequivocally anti- Brexit

  6. We cannot have individual candidates deciding at the last minute to stand down. The result will be chaos.

    The previous Canterbury candidate shouldn’t have put himself up for election, if he had such doubts.

    A more serious way of proceeding would have been to go through party HQ and also speak to the local Labour MP and try to come up with an arrangement.

    Horatio Mortimer, but why do you not apply your argument to Labour? There are numerous seats where LABOUR standing down would make it more likely to have one less Tory. But LABOUR will not stand down in a single seat.
    Anyone who suggests otherwise is out of touch with reality.

    Stopping Brexit is NOT Labour’s priority.

    • Of course I do apply it to Labour. In fact my hope is that if the Lib Dems made a significant gesture, it would put a lot of pressure on Labour to reciprocate. And even if they didn’t (which I admit is likely), I think that never the less it would make many more Labour voters in Lib Dem / Tory marginals feel more inclined to vote Lib Dem. (I take Mark’s point that it could also discourage Tory voters, but in the end what do those Tory voters hope to achieve by voting Lib Dem, if it is not to stop Boris Johnson from winning a majority?). What I hear all the time is that Labour voters are extremely put off by Jo Swinson’s promise not to do a deal with Corbyn. I am not advocating that she rescind that, but I think that a gesture in a couple of seats that Lib Dems have no chance at all in, with moderate Labour candidates would have a very positive net impact. The ‘disciplining’ of Tim Walker on the other hand is having a very negative impact, and making it considerably more difficult to persuade Labour supporters to vote tactically.

      By the way, another thing that would be helpful on the doorsteps is if there was a clarification of the ‘Revoke’ policy. It needs to be made absolutely clear that this is something that would be done only if the Lib Dems won an overwhelming mandate to do it. Short of that, the policy should be for a Peoples’ vote. (what would be on the ballot would be a matter for discussion with other parties.) I am really surprised by the number of intelligent people who would I think be quite persuadable to vote Lib Dem, whose initial reaction is that it is undemocratic, but who can quite easily be persuaded that if you think about it, it is not.

      • I disagree. If there is one thing which will impress Milne &co and lead them to do discrete deals with the Libdems, should we wish to, it is this step which shows the LD are becoming a disciplined and efficient party, not the soft touch they believe it to be.

      • This might be true for a long term strategy. Unfortunately this election is a historic fork in the road. It truly is not the moment to put the party above the country.

  7. I particularly agree with Mark’s first point. (I write as agent in a Tory/Labour marginal.) It’s also a bit naive to suggest, as some armchair commentators do, that all the votes which are cast for the Liberal Democrat candidate would otherwise go to Labour. I suggest these armchair election strategists knock on a few doors.

    I also find Labour’s arrogance to be most unpleasant. Labour seems to treat other non-Conservative parties like vassal states which should do its bidding with nothing in return. I look forward to hearing news of the first Labour candidate to stand down by 4 p.m. tomorrow.

    Off topic: I voted for you, Mark! (I think Christine Jardine should have stood down to avoid splitting the Liberal Democrat vote.)

  8. “But LABOUR will not stand down in a single seat.”

    Just because Labour won’t put country before party, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. A heavily constrained Corbyn (he has no chance of winning a majority) is preferable to Johnson with a large majority, given that the former will be forced to hold a People’s Vote and the latter can’t be.

    • Yes it does, otherwise the Tories will mercilessly hammer home the point that we are enabling a Corbyn government, something that is more upsetting to Tory remainers than Johnson. As the vast majority of our target seats are reliant on those Tory remainers voting for us any hint of Corbyn support is likely to drive those Tories back to vote for the Conservatives and mean we don’t gain those seats and Johnson gets his majority and pushes through Brexit.

      Also see my point below made at 4.40pm. Having a Lib Dem candidate could boost Duffield’s chances.

  9. Well said Mark.

    Equally having a Lib Dem candidate could also benefit the Labour candidates as it will provide a repository for all those liberal tories never Corbyn ex Labour who if given the choice between Corbyn Labour and Johnson Tory will mostly plump for the latter for fear / loathing of Corbyn and the current Labour party.

    In my constituency a Labour vs Lib Dem seat I see the Greens standing as a benefit. If there was no Green candidate all the Labour voters who dislike Corbyn / Labour’s Brexit position but can’t bring themselves to voting Lib Dem because of the coalition years will probably hold their nose and vote Labour which would hurt our chances.

  10. I also disagree strongly on the Canterbury question. As a Lib Dem member I am outraged that we are disciplining for someone for setting his personal ambition aside and following through on our policy of Stopping Brexit and trying to put an end to tribal politics. Layla Moran told a group some months ago that decisions on standing down should be taken at the local level, not at the central level, and now you are arguing exactly the opposite. There obviously has to be a limit on how far we can work together with Labour, but we absolutely should not stand where there is a serious risk that the Tory will come through the middle and give us a Johnson government and a hard Brexit.

  11. It’s the Leave vote that’s most vulnerable to splits, with the Leave parties – Labour, Tories, Farage and UKIP – not merely having different views on what Leave means but also on just about everything else too. The Remain vote is fairly united and it requires very little clarification to identify the main Remain candidate just about everywhere. A LibDem candidate standing down in somewhere like Canterbury is pretty harebrained.

  12. I support the decision of the Libdems to stand a candidate. First for all the reasons stated by Mark. But also for other reasons.
    It is Labour policy that there will be a second referendum on a Labour negotiated deal. This will require referendum legislation to pass through HoC. Many Labour MPs opposed a 2nd referendum on May’s & Johnson’s deal. Are we certain that they will support one on Labour’s “jobs first Brexit”? If they dont, they are unlikely to be sanctioned by a leadership which was forced to adopt this policy. The Tories would also vote against & note that independent like Gauke only support a PV because of the drastic consequences of Johnson’s deal. He didn’t for May’s deal to which Labour will be very close. So in my view there is no certainty that there will be a second referendum.
    If there is one I personally believe that Labour will campaign for its Brexit deal and I very much doubt that Remain Labour MPs will be allowed to campaign against it.
    So as we say: Labour is not a remain party. And voters are entitled to have a true remain option.
    Finally I believe in “realpolitik”: people like Milne, McCluskey & the clique who surrounds Corbyn have only contempt for unilateral surrender, a sign of bourgeois weakness. If we hold out, as the vote nears, they will get real & then in my view, there is some potential in the last weeks of the campaign for some discrete reciprocal deals at local constituencies basis (but coordinated from the top). I understand this has happened in the past. It could happen again.

  13. Actually, I was really impressed with the Lib Dem MP standing down in Canterbury. Here was somebody at last putting country before party! I suddenly felt proud again for having joined the Lib Dems last April. However, after reading your arguments, I am again feeling disappointed and discouraged with the Lib Dem stance. Looking at the polls, the chances of the Lib Dems winning the GE are unrealistic to say the least, to claim otherwise, in my opinion, is dishonest. Therefore, the only way we will avoid a far right-wing Johnson government and a hard Brexit is for Labour to win the elections. With Corbyn, we have a very real chance of stopping Brexit, because whether he campaigns for or against his “soft” Brexit, Remainers would have an excellent chance of winning. Such a “soft” Brexit – or Lexit – does not fulfil any of the reasons people voted to leave the EU (eg: it will not stop free movement, it won’t allow all those ha-ha fantastic trades with the rest of the world, it won’t pave the way to deregulation and tax-avoidance, it would mean following EU rules without a say which is what Leavers would call vassalage, etc etc.), so who would vote for it? Perhaps 10% of the electorate, I imagine, including possibly Corbyn! By standing in constituencies where Labour is pushed out and Tories end up winning, the Lib Dems are effectively ensuring we get a hard Brexit and five years of Singapore-on-Thames.

    • The issue with the LibDems standing aside for either the Tory or Labour parties is that most LibDem voters, being Liberals and Democrats have their own views and will decide themselves (and in many cases will decide that Corbyn and co. do not deserve their vote).
      Additionally, as we know, the LibDem core vote is not exactly huge. Many votes come from people who have supported other parties but vote LibDem this time.
      The reality is that in a place like Canterbury it is not clear that standing aside would actually help the Labour candidate. The place has a very strong conservative tradition.
      Better to stand and fight for Tory remainer voters and go to another place where LibDems can actually win.
      Lastly, if several LibDems stand aside with party support then the Tory campagne will use this in LibDem/Tory marginals as clear evidence that LibDem MPs will support Corbyn, thus loosing us many seats and gifting them victory.

  14. I agree with the majority of the comments above – to potentially let a conservative win a seat from a remain labour candidate because Jeremy Corbin would not do a deal is cutting off our nose to spite our face!
    The chance of Corbin winning an overall majority is tiny while the chance of Johnson winning an outright majority and thus implementing either his Brexit deal or an even harder Brexit is high.
    The most important thing is to stop Brexit.
    In our constituency we got just 731 last time and Plaid got 2293 . We no pact here, a new Lib Dem candidate with no history in the constituency and absolutely no chance of winning what was a 60% leave constituency so if we take votes away from Labour then the Tory could get in – he increased his vote by nearly 9% last time!!
    People’s Vote is recommending we stand down and vote labour – probably wise advice

  15. People’s Vote have just asked me to write to the Labour candidate in this Tory/Lib Dem seat, asking her to stand down. If she does, LD victory here is certain, but not if she doesn’t. I have indeed written, but felt distinctly hypocritical doing so, given that we won’t do so for Rosie Duffield. At least I was able to add a sentence to the standard suggested letter, saying that I had just wrotten to Jo Swinson asking her not to find a replacement candidate for Walker.

  16. The Liberal Democrats under consecutive Leaders have led the pathway since 2016 and opened the door for Labour Remainers to catch-up to join a defiant uneqivocal L/D clarion call a `Second Referendum’ and now the twin General Election pillars of EU Remain and £50Billion bonus for public services and the Conference vote to abolish Artcle 50.

    In contrast Labour is run by dictat and fiat from Corbyn and under his term of imperious command has refuted that his beleagured and besmirched party rank and file and has been mired in a continuum of internal rows on `anti-semitism’ that has now led to investigation and reports on unresolved seizmic Human Rights questions.

    I agree with the view that the Liberal Democrats are the clear unequivocal lead political party and now rightly widened to campaign for the EU Remain cause that includes the Unite EU Alliance with Greens,Welsh Nationalists and pragmatically in some Tory Independent MPS of higher resolve and principle than the Bojo ERG hard right-wing driven Brexiteers.

  17. I agree that standing aside doesn’t actually help that much. It’s easy to forget that if there is no Lib Dem candidate, some Lib Dem voters would instead vote for the Conservatives, or wouldn’t vote at all. In a closely-fought election it could still be helpful, but the pollsters are hardly suggesting this election will be close-fought.

  18. We should honour Tim’s decision in Canterbury and put pressure on Labour not to stand in Beaconsfield if we don’t want to be seen as doing a Labour deal.

  19. The particular situation in Canterbury is a tricky one in which I can see strong arguments both for stepping down and for standing.

    However the argument made about the decision needing to be made collectively by the party and not unilaterally by the candidate is a very strong point which I endorse.

    The point about the wider impact on all the other seats that we are fighting for is also a very powerful argument.

    The assumption that the LibDem standing down would be of great help to Labour also needs to be challenged. A lot of the LibDem support comes from disgruntled Conservative supporters who would never support Labour, so the net effect may turn out to be fairly marginal.

    Personally I would support having the debate within the party. I would then happily support the decision that was arrived at, whichever way it went, confident that it had been reached after proper debate and due consideration of all the issues. Unilateral decisions by candidates is wrong IMO.

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