A formal Lib-Lab pact? That’s the last thing we need…


There is suddenly a great deal of talk, on all sides of the political sweep, about the prospects of a pact between Labour and the Lib Dems to take power at the next general election.

The commentariat would enjoy it and the Conservatives would be delighted. But I hope that Messrs Starmer and Davey will be a little more circumspect than that.

This is not because I can’t imagine an arrangement in government between the two rival parties of the left. It is because the last thing either of those parties need is to be tied to each other before an election.

The very last thing they need is a pact before voting, and I say that despite my involvement in Neal Lawson pro-pact movement Compass – because I remember the 2015 election and the way the Tories portrayed the hint of an emerging understanding between Labour’s leader Ed Miliband and the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

My other reasons are as follows:

  • Because it wouldn’t ring true – there has been little or no co-operation on the ground – no joint campaigning that I am aware of. Once there is, it would be a different matter.
  • Because last time a Conservative government was decisively defeated, there was no formal pact. This is despite what Lawson says about 1997. It is true that there was an informal understanding between Blair and Ashdown. In fact, Ashdown was given a police escort to London on election night, in the belief – which he shared – that he was arriving to take power. But Blair lost his nerve.
  • Because people are not stupid. They know how to cast their vote so that it has the desired effect.

Just as they did on Thursday in Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton. People will make up their own minds how to vote and they prefer it that way, without somehow a sense of being forced to do so by politicians. Which is precisely what the Conservatives want them to feel.

Once polling is over, and the Conservatives have lost, then everything will be different. The main issue then will be whether the Lib Dems have enough seats to sustain a coalition. They now have the same number as they had for the Lib-Lab Pact of 1978, which was nothing like a coalition – though it led to breakthrough legislation to encourage co-ops.

Nor is it clear whether Lib Dems can stomach another coalition so soon after the last one torpedoed most fo their parliamentary representation. Instead, I hope that – in practice – Labour would agree to immediate legislation to change the voting system. followed perhaps by another general election.

I have written elsewhere about the prospects of a pact between the Lib Dems and the Greens – which seem to me to be an excellent idea. Given the single condition that it must be preceded by joint action on the ground – otherwise nobody will believe it.

Meanwhile, of course, the old government blunderbuss continues, notably with the first national rail strike. The government’s preferred method of dealing with this is irritatingly familiar. They are encouraging a kind of aggressive hatred of the striking RMT, at the same time as putting out misleading information about salaries (the union is claiming 7 per cent, which seems to me to leave them out of pocket, given the rate of inflation).

The figures used by Grant Shapps include train driver salaries. When these are considerably higher, when drivers are mainly members of Aslef and they are not on strike.

I don’t travel up to London so much these days, so I haven’t had a chance to gauge the feelings of the travelling public. In fact, I think Southern services – which have stayed pretty dire since 2016 – have been a little more reliable during this strike, presumably because they have enough drivers to cover the limited service, for the first time since GTR made so many of them redundant when they took on the franchise in 2015.

It almost makes me feel a little sorry for the railway managers, caught between the striking railway workers and the government – just as we commuters were in the days of my #passengerstrike in 2017.

Now maybe they might understand what it feels like to be a member of the travelling public, caught between two implacable rivals, using you as the object of the struggle, fighting about something which really has little to do with you.

But then, although Boris Johnson may not be a traditional Conservative, he is definitely a conservative – one who believes in the old rhetoric and rituals of days gone by. Which is why I have written this blog…

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.


  1. Joe Zammit-Lucia says

    Lib Dem pact with the Greens is, I suggest, even more undesirable. The Greens are a far left party. The Lib Dems have already abandoned enough of classical Liberal principles to make Conservative voters (those they need to win over in marginal seats) skittish about supporting them. A pact with the Greens would scare off even more.

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