Why Labour has little to gain from attacking Libdems


1:33 pm - April 20th 2010

by Lee Griffin    


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Labour, facing their worst result in almost 20 years, have a lot to worry about. Their share is dropping and for the first time in a long while they have become the third party…however fleetingly.

They need a sensible and effective strategy, both for the party AND the supporters that are directing both the ground and internet campaign for hearts and minds. Who or what should they be targeting?

My first instinct would be to say “Not the Liberal Democrats”. Here’s why (though, in advance, forgive the broad generalisations):

Of the top 25 target seats for the Lib Dems in May, Labour seats therein lie in either Scotland, the North East, or London. The only exceptions are Watford and Norwich South. Let’s be clear that the fight in Scotland is between the SNP and Labour.

Lib Dems might be sniffing around at a few extra votes but there is nothing that they can offer above the border that the SNP can’t in terms of electoral strategy. In London the battle is almost exclusively between Labour and the Tories.

Compare the above situation with the seats Lib Dems will be fighting the Tories for, Somerton and Frome now notionally a Tory seat despite being the seat of a Lib Dem front bencher, Solihull also notionally Tory despite being held by long term Lib Dem in an area Lib Dems are gaining at an equal if not better pace than the Tories…

In fact out of the top 25 target seats that are Tory there are only Guildford, Ealing and Central Acton, Eastbourne and Meon Valley that look like tough nuts to crack, down in the South Eastern heart of anti-EU anti-immigration sentiment.

The differences here are night and day, while Lib Dems will hope to achieve wins in the Lib/Lab marginals that they’re contesting the reality is that support in these areas is already high and isn’t going anywhere. I mentioned scotland above, but in the North East and London Labour are still polling a 53% and 39% share respectively.

The trend is downwards for Labour, that much is true, yet their supporters need to realise that these highly marginal seats are not worth butting heads with the Lib Dems over…it is the Tories that hold the threat. These regions are simply not turning Yellow just yet. They may do in the future, but not yet.

* * * * * * * *

More pressingly the Tories first 8 target seats, all around the London area, are all virtually guaranteed to turn Blue due to their location, go further down their list to a more “current” swing likelihood and you have seats like Bury North, Ribble South and Pendle.

These are supposedly Labour’s strength and traditional support, yet unless they work out how to reverse the tide of support flowing from them in regions like this (North West) and the North East then they will also lose these to the Tories. It is here that the Labour party must be most careful and most proactive.

Meanwhile for the Lib Dems it is the Tories that must be the target of attack for greater parliamentary weight, constituencies already predisposed to voting “Liberal” and in regions that are seeing the vote share swing to the Lib Dems.

There are also three way marginals in the mix, and every bit of common sense suggests that in these areas the Lib Dems will win, most likely due to a Watford style crumbling of support for the main two parties, the latest Yougov poll suggests that where Lib Dems can be seen to have a significant chance of winning they get a massive 49% of the vote.

What it ultimately has to come down to is funding for the Lib Dems, and it’s the seats like Weston-Super-Mare and Devon Central that the local Lib Dem supporters and party are going to have to really take seriously now. A 2% swing against a resurgent Tory party in a fairly blue or yellow part of the country might have been daunting a month ago, but now there is no reason to fear that battle.

Money and time is what it all boils down to. If the Lib Dems want to capitalise on this recent bounce, however long it lasts, then they’ll need donations, they’ll need support…and they’ll need a local party that wants to go out and win.

What they don’t need is Labour denting their chances at taking a swathe of Tory seats, and what Labour don’t have much choice in is the number of seats they’re almost guaranteed to lose to either party in the South. Labour need to be smart now, and in all honesty I think the main party is already on their way to the right strategy.

Their focus, just like the Lib Dems, has to be the Conservatives and stopping the overall majority they’re aiming for.

Both the red and yellow party have significant differences on a variety of issues, but the one thing that I have always believed they are closer on is the lack of desire to see another Tory government given the chance to ruin this country.

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About the author
Lee is a 20 something web developer from Cornwall now residing in Bristol since completing his degree at the lesser university. He has strange dreams, a big appetite, a small flat, and when not forcing his views on the world he is probably eating a cookie. Lee blogs independently from party colours at Program your own mind.
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Reader comments


Interesting comments about the Lib Dems in Scotland. Just a shame Nick Clegg won’t say that (or let Alex Salmond in on the debates).

There does seem to be some degree of cooperation between the SNP and the Lib Dems when it comes to Scotland. The Lib Dems in Edinburgh are focusing on Edinburgh South while the SNP are targeting east and both parties josh for North and Leith. Similar situations in Glasgow as well.
Aberdeen might be a bit of a flash point, but otherwise it’s very much a co-ordinated campaign against Labour.

“Both the red and yellow party have significant differences on a variety of issues, but the one thing that I have always believed they are closer on is the lack of desire to see another Tory government given the chance to ruin this country.”

If this were true, then why won’t Clegg and local Lib Dem candidates in areas where they are fighting the Tories rule out doing a coalition with the Tories after the election?

Lee knows what I think about this, but the strategy here is completely wrong for Labour. In Labour/Tory marginals, if people switch from Labour to the Lib Dems, then the Tories will get in. So Labour needs to do something to persuade people to vote Labour rather than Lib Dem. Just ignoring the Lib Dems won’t achieve this.

I am also staggered by the complacency of many Labour supporters about the prospect of coming third in the popular vote. Whatever happens in terms of the seats, there is absoutely no way that Labour can continue in government if they end up doing as badly as some recent polls have suggested – it would be total and utter political suicide. So unless Labour gets more votes than either the Lib Dems or Tories, there is going to be some kind of Lib Dem/Tory coalition or understanding.

3. Stuart White

Don @ 2: why do you think that Labour’s coming third in the popular vote would rule out some kind of Lib-Lab coalition or understanding?

I agree that Labour shouldn’t be complacent about coming third in the popular vote. But I’m not sure why, if this did happen, it would preclude a coalition. Surely Labour could say, on formation of such a coalition: ‘ We have no mandate to govern by ourselves, but the public has cast a clear vote against a Tory solution to our economic and political crises and we will join in a government with the Lib Dems to sort these problems out.’ Why wouldn’t that have democratic legitimacy, and be perceived to have it?

@Stuart White Labour coming third doesn’t rule out there being a Lib-Lab government; it just rules out a Lab-Lib government.

3 – If the Lib Dems, after a campaign based entirely on the need for ‘change’ and getting rid of politics as usual end up propping up a Labour party that finished third in the vote (but still got many more seats than the Lib Dems) then they would get utterly crucified for it. Whether it’s the properly progressive thing to do or not, it would be electoral suicide.

It’s only if the Lib Dems can get more seats (not more votes) than Labour that they could go into some form of coalition – on the grounds that Labour would be helping them form the new politics. For this to happen the LDs probably need 35-38% of the vote, which would require a touch more LD helium to inflate their balloon.

“I agree that Labour shouldn’t be complacent about coming third in the popular vote. But I’m not sure why, if this did happen, it would preclude a coalition. Surely Labour could say, on formation of such a coalition: ‘ We have no mandate to govern by ourselves, but the public has cast a clear vote against a Tory solution to our economic and political crises and we will join in a government with the Lib Dems to sort these problems out.’ Why wouldn’t that have democratic legitimacy, and be perceived to have it?”

Because the public will have cast an even more clear vote against a Labour solution to our economic and political crises.

It will look totally and utterly ridiculous if Labour finishes third in the number of votes, then does a deal with the Lib Dems to cling on to power. And then tries to carry out bigger spending cuts than Thatcher did.

One consequence will be that the referendum on electoral reform will be lost, as it will be portrayed as Labour and the Lib Dems trying to rig the electoral system, and people will have a protest against the government. Another will be that the Lib Dems will bring down the government whenever they feel there is electoral advantage to them to do so, and a third will be that the following election will see the Tories returned with a staggeringly huge majority.

I know there is this fantasy that this is the moment at last for a Lib/Lab coalition which will do all the things that we want and abandon all the things which we don’t like, but it isn’t going to happen.

@6 donpaskini

“I know there is this fantasy that this is the moment at last for a Lib/Lab coalition which will do all the things that we want and abandon all the things which we don’t like, but it isn’t going to happen.”

A Lib/Lab coalition doesn’t seem any more fantastical than some of your assertions. It now seems entirely plausible that neither the Tories or Labour will have enough seats to command a majority, and that we’re not talking about a handful of seats as in the 1970’s.

There is nothing instrinsically ridiculous about Labour continuing (with or without Brown) using LD support, either on a case by case basis, or in a formal coalition. It would certainly be a better result than Cameron being PM. If there is a coalition then the nature of the beast is that BOTH sides have to compromise: the minutiae of who gets what cabinet seats, what policies get ditched or adopted etc, will have to wait for the result and final balance of seats and/or % of popular vote commanded.

Your scenario about a referendum on PR being lost is possible of course – but it’s only ONE possible future. It is equally (in fact I would now say more) likely that this election, and the result, could encourage a yes vote. Clegg ought to be quite open that holding such a referendum within 12 months of the election is a non-negotiable price for a coalition. That’ll keep the Tories out.

We can then start the job of undoing the damage done by the nauseating New Labour project.

There is nothing instrinsically ridiculous about Labour continuing (with or without Brown) using LD support, either on a case by case basis, or in a formal coalition. It would certainly be a better result than Cameron being PM.

If Labour come third and remain in Government through the support of the Lib Dems it would lead to an absolute wipe-out in the next election, which would probably be within a year.

“Clegg ought to be quite open that holding such a referendum within 12 months of the election is a non-negotiable price for a coalition. That’ll keep the Tories out.”

But Clegg won’t make this a non-negotiable condition, for exactly the same reason that the Lib Dems won’t rule out working with the Tories – a large chunk of their supporters will abandon them if they think that voting Lib Dem will mean Labour staying in power.

This is the problem – at the moment everyone is projecting on to the Lib Dems their own desires. This might get them a good vote come polling day, but is going to lead to tremendous disappointment afterwards.

10. Stuart White

Richard @ 4: Quite! I was careful to refer to a Lib-Lab coalition rather than a Lab-Lib one….

It’s rather odd how little credit you give the voters!

“If Labour come third and remain in Government through the support of the Lib Dems it would lead to an absolute wipe-out in the next election, which would probably be within a year.”

So…? If Labour come third, and get wiped out in a follow up election (which hopefully would be using a reformed voting system) an awful lot of people will be happy to dance on the ruins. No party has a God given right to expect perpetual support and indulgence – “New” Labour in particular.

Of course Clegg isn’t going to absolutely rule out working with the Tories (at least not yet)… but the rules of the game may be changing. I think a lot of people in the Tory party, New Labour, and the media STILL don’t really get it. The hoped for fracturing of our archaic and corrupt political system didn’t happen in the 1980’s…(more’s the pity!)..but it might do now!

As for this all being a projection of our own desires onto the LD’s…..maybe so. You may be right that it will all prove to be a great disappointment.

But..just think.. you might be wrong too. I for one certainly hope so!

12. Stuart White

Don @ 6: I think you’re doing a public service by challenging happy-clappy Lib-Lab coalitionism of the kind I am, admittedly, inclined to engage in. But I’m still not convinced….

You say that such a coalition would lack legitimacy: ‘Because the public will have cast an even more clear vote against a Labour solution to our economic and political crises [than to a Tory solution].’

Well…here I think it is relevant that on the basics of the economy and democratic reform (albeit not yet on civil liberties), the positions of Labour and the Lib Dems are closer to each other than either is to the Tories. That creates an obvious basis for democratically legitimate cooperation between Labour and the Lib Dems.

And you say: ‘It will look totally and utterly ridiculous if Labour finishes third in the number of votes, then does a deal with the Lib Dems to cling on to power.’

I agree that would look ridiculous. But is it really a question of Labour ‘clinging on to power’? A coalition would involve sharing power. Labour would have to be in the business of giving some real power up or it wouldn’t get a coalition.

But maybe the following scenario supports your worries. Say, as we are assuming, Labour loses on the popular vote but has the largest number of seats. A deal with the Lib Dems falls short of coalition. The Lib Dems agree to support a minority Labour government charged with the task of holding a referendum on electoral reform and then holding fresh elections after a further 6 months.

Is that Labour ‘clinging to power’? Would Labour be punished for staying in office? I can see why one might fear that…but I think there is also a perfectly reasonable story to tell in these circs about acting as a responsible caretaker government.

Is there anywhere with the stats about how the commons would look if the election was done under AV or STV?

I have done Google to death and can’t find a thing.

It’s impossible to say.

For AV it depends on how people’s 2nd preferences break, and we don’t really know anything about that at all.

For STV, ditto, except that we can say with some confidence that the outcome would be more proportional than under FPTP or AV — but how proportional it would be would depend on how many members were being elected from each of the multi-member constituencies.

@ Chris –

I did think it was a forlorn task, I don’t think that the starts are kept of what you would have voted second etc. But it would have been interesting – in that would the Libdems be left with only 100 seats even though they took the popular vote if things stand as they are.

16. Mike Killingworth

A new poll (forgotten which pollster) has the Tories 10 points ahead of the two other parties, who are tied.

It’s ComRes, and their numbers are CON 35, LIB / LAB both 26.

Today’s other polls are nowhere near as extreme.

YouGov has CON 31 / LIB 34 / LAB 26.
Populus has CON 32 / LIB 31 / LAB 28.
Angus Reid has CON 32 / LIB 33 / LAB 23.

Comres is clearly an outlier, given the fieldwork took place before the latest three polls which all broadly agree with each other about the closeness of the race. This could be for a number of reasons, but we’ll need to see what the next day or two brings.

Back on topic:

“If this were true, then why won’t Clegg and local Lib Dem candidates in areas where they are fighting the Tories rule out doing a coalition with the Tories after the election?”

I happen to think a principled stance on this is the most correct, despite what I may believe personally. The general public will be able to see integrity versus disingenuousness come result day and I wouldn’t want the Lib Dems to find themselves being portrayed in the latter.

“In Labour/Tory marginals, if people switch from Labour to the Lib Dems, then the Tories will get in.”

Which is why the emphasis has to be on promoting Labour and showing the flaws of the Tories. Most Lab/Tory marginals are in the North or in London. Lib Dems simply aren’t gaining support in these areas so the idea that the vote is switching from Labour to Lib Dems is a fallacy. At least that’s how it looks after the latest regionals poll.

Clegg and the LD’s would be nuts to do anything other than keep their options open. Why should they do otherwise?

I’d personally prefer them to come out loud and clear, and state their minimum price for any coalition or “toleration” of a minority Labour or Tory government.

Insisting on a committment to a referendum on PR more or less rules out any Con/LD coalition, and I doubt there is much appetite within the LD’s or the country as a whole for that result. There probably IS an appetite for a Lab/LD coalition tho, but given the way the polls are going, Clegg might as well sit tight and see what the final result is. The number of LD seats, and % of the popular vote they win, will dictate how much he can demand post election.

Labour’s best bet is to carry on doing what they are already doing: attack the Tories, talk sweetly to that nice Mr Clegg, and pray that they don’t get the good kicking they richly deserve from the electorate. If the kicking delivered IS bad enough, Brown will be ditched faster than a speeding Toyota.

“I’d personally prefer them to come out loud and clear, and state their minimum price for any coalition or “toleration” of a minority Labour or Tory government.”

Well they have, haven’t they? 4 key principles on tax reform, education, political reform and banking reform.

“Insisting on a committment to a referendum on PR more or less rules out any Con/LD coalition”

Depends on the result, I would defy Tories to try and claim FPTP is the best system if the seats are even remotely spread as the UNS predicts (which they won’t be, but if it’s severely disproportional with LDs still third despite being close to first it’d be just as bad). I honestly don’t understand this premise that the Tories would be able to block reform to voting if this mood and situation persists, their authority would be severely undermined by doing so after supposedly claiming to be the change this country needs. You can’t campaign on change then decide you’re going to plump for the situation you’ve got and has always been.

“For Labour, that should prompt a radical conclusion. A government in power for 13 years cannot hope to win an election that is now all about change. Instead its best hope surely has to be to maximise its core vote to prevent a collapse into the low 20s on percentage points, a defeat even more absolute than that of 1983.”

Oh look, Guardian agrees 😉

23. Mike Killingworth

Those of us who used the courtesy of Sunny’s hospitality to argue that the future of progressive politics in this country depended upon the smashing of the monstrosity that Blair, Brown and Mandelson have turned the Labour Party into may now be forgiven our schadenfreude.

By the same token, those who think that Labour can be “recovered” from these people and their hangers-on, such as the abomination they have parachuted into Liverpool – apparently the best candidate they can find for a heartland seat is an ex-squeeze of Blair fils, a hooray Henrietta who is no doubt to the right of William Hague – such people (this means you – well, you know who are) need to be taken outside and re-educated. As gently as possible, of course. But re-educated nonetheless.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. David Sheen

    RT @libcon Why Labour has little to gain from attacking Libdems http://bit.ly/dv4s4N

  2. Paul Sandars

    RT @libcon: Why Labour has little to gain from attacking Libdems http://bit.ly/dv4s4N

  3. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why Labour has little to gain from attacking Libdems http://bit.ly/dv4s4N

  4. Lee Griffin

    RT @LibCon @Niaccurshi Why #Labour has little to gain from attacking #Libdems http://bit.ly/dv4s4N #ukelection #ge2010

  5. Lee Griffin

    RT @LibCon Why #Labour has little to gain from attacking #Libdems http://bit.ly/dv4s4N #ukelection #ge2010

  6. Lee Griffin

    Last week I said Labour supporters need to concentrate on the North+Tories http://j.mp/dv4s4N Guardian agrees http://j.mp/b64icd #ukelection





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