A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, July 05, 2010

No quarter to the LDs

Luke Pollard, who fought an excellent campaign as PPC for SW Devon, has an interesting post on labourlist today: http://www.labourlist.org/a-west-country-balancing-act-luke-pollard

He warns that

"in Labour’s haste to highlight Lib Dem errors and poor judgment let’s also be mindful that for many years the Liberal Democrats were the only party stopping the Tories sweeping the West county. This is important because an outright Tory majority might well be aided by gains west of Bristol.

Labour must find a careful balance between winning more votes and activists and letting the Tories in by the back door. If Cameron is indeed setting the Liberal Democrats up as scapegoats for the coalition’s progressive agenda then it will be in places like the West country where he hopes to complete the deal by winning Lib Dem seats.

Labour has our own fights in the West county and in many Tory/Lib Dem battleground seats frankly we can do little to influence the final outcome. Should that stop us from fighting and highlighting the Lib Dem’s betrayal of ordinary West country folk? Absolutely not. As far as I’m concerned they’re fair game but let’s remember for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - and we might not always like the consequences."

I don't share his concerns about a Labour boost in the South West gifting current LD seats to the Tories.

This is for three reasons:

1) If we use the referendum next year to switch to Alternative Vote, all such "tactical" voting and campaigning becomes a thing of the past. All voters can use their first preference to vote with their heart for the party they really back, then use their second preference to vote tactically for say the LDs if the seat is an LD vs Con marginal. There is no possibility of the Tories winning seats on a split centre-left vote because AV requires every winner to have 50%+ of the votes cast, after transfers. Thus we'd get to see the real level of Labour support in rural southern seats, not the level after it has been depressed by Lib Dem tactical voting squeeze messages. In some seats it might turn out that the LDs are not even in second place once tactical voting is stripped out.

2) So what if the LDs do lose some seats to the Tories? Pre-Coalition anyone on the centre-left would clearly rationally prefer a Lib Dem MP to a Tory one but it is very difficult to see what the great advantage is, if they are signed up to a common five-year programme with a joint whips' office, which on the evidence of the last two months is positioned somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan. To be worthy of being lent tactical votes by Labour supporters, or of Labour backing off and not campaigning hard in their constituencies, Lib Dem MPs and PPCs need to actually vote in the Commons in a leftwing way. Voting for cuts and VAT rises on a scale Thatcher would have been embarrassed about leaves me unable to see why the presence of extra Lib Dem MPs in the Commons is in any meaningful way preferable to the presence of extra Tories.

3) The starting point for winning any seat is to believe your party has a right to challenge to win in that area. If we write-off the rural south as a no-go zone it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. You would never catch the Lib Dems looking at an area and saying "we don't belong there, it's a Con vs Lab fight". They find a ward or two where there is some demographic hope for them and work it like crazy until they get a toehold on a council, then build that into a wedge of council seats, then put out some barcharts saying they are in second place even when they are a weak third, and the next thing you know they are the actual challenger, have squeezed the third party, and won. We need to be just as ruthless and long-termist - but without the fibs in our barcharts.

Labour needs to use the LDs' realignment through the Coalition to occupy the centre-left territory they have vacated. We need to exploit the fact that voters in LD vs Con seats to longer have a meaningful political choice presented to them. We need to get over the cultural cringe that says there are no-go areas for us where we don't run council candidates and have only paper candidates in general elections.

This moment needs to be our equivalent of Howard Dean's 50 state strategy which was one of the building blocks of Obama's victory. It doesn't mean ditching ruthless targeting and focusing of resources on marginal seats when things get down to hard tacks in the run-up to the next election. It does mean using the early part of the electoral cycle to rebuild our organisation in all 650 seats, replicate the 1995 "Operation Toehold" when we seconded staff to help get a Labour Group of councillors on every council in the country, and prove we are the only truly national party. With a boundary review and possibly a new electoral system coming the list of marginal seats is being thrown up in the air. By getting stuck in to areas that are not in Labour's comfort zone but where there is an anti-Tory tradition that has been let down by the LDs, we might just create the kind of unexpected long-shot gains that were so pleasing in 1997 - or lay the groundwork for gaining those seats Lib Dem style over several elections.


Anonymous Jonathan Todd said...

As the Labour candidate in 2010 for Westmorland and Lonsdale, a seat usually thought of as a contest between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, I am 100% behind what Luke Akehurst calls “our equivalent of Howard Dean's 50 state strategy.”

The Liberal Democrats have become increasingly dominant in terms of councillor representation in South Lakeland. This is an ill-wind that can only bring unhappiness and must be resisted. The Westmorland and Lonsdale CLP is made up of fantastic comrades and I would love to see some of them become Labour councillors.

While we may be some way from winning the parliamentary seat, the CLP deserves every support and encouragement to go after both Liberal Democrats and Conservatives alike in every election, to remind South Lakeland that Labour is the only worthwhile centre-left option and to discourage the madness of tactical voting in favour of Liberal Democrats. I found Westmorland and Lonsdale more receptive to Labour than might be imagined but tactical voting was a big barrier to us gaining votes.

As we are a national party, the CLP deserves nothing less than this support and encouragement. The CLP is more than capable of remaining a vibrant force, with realistic hopes of rebuilding its councillor base, and able to keep Liberal Democrats focused on retaining Westmorland and Lonsdale, rather than casting their eyes around near-by constituencies for further havoc to reap.

Let’s fight on every front, in every constituency and on every doorstep for our Labour beliefs.

2:57 pm, July 05, 2010

Anonymous theoldpolitics said...

"In some seats it might turn out that the LDs are not even in second place once tactical voting is stripped out."

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but surely this will lead to the Lib Dems saying that we must vote tactically for them so that they get to be in second place?! Given that their voters now officially prefer the Tories to Labour, it's a one-way deal, and Labour in 2nd means a Tory win.

4:09 pm, July 05, 2010

Blogger Patrick said...

I absolutely agree. The example I always drag up is Epping Forest, where I used to live. 15 years ago, we were the second biggest party and the official opposition to a Tory minority administration. In an intensely Tory area (the constituency takes in big swathes of Essex countryside and towns such as Chigwell and Ongar) we ran Stephen Norris, who was uncommonly popular for a Tory in 1997, rather close. Now we have just one councillor and finished - for the first time ever - behind the Liberals at the General Election. Whilst a Labour victory in that seat at the next or any General Election is as unlikely as Labour victories get, that we're a non entity on the council is unacceptable in an area where at the very least, we should be representing our core vote, such as the white, urban, working class of Loughton Broadway. Instead, the local party is badly organised, unmotivated, and lacking members who aren't pensioners. We've been eroded by every party - the RAs, Liberals, Tories, Independents and BNP have all taken seats off of us. Areas like Epping Forest desperately require the assistance of bigger CLPs like ours.

2:13 pm, July 06, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

I agree with that almost completely. OK, we're not about to win Beaconsfield or Cheltenham, but we do need to make our presence felt, and in many areas we have left things to the FibDems

Actually on one level I'd rather have the Tories. At least you know where you stand with the Tories. Right-wing. The FibDems are as slippery as eels, and quite capable of shifting from left to right at the mere sniff of power. They have been doing it for years locally. That doesn't mean that there aren't some good people in the party, but I would much rather they came over to us. Can you imagine if Charles Kennedy, who is a Social Democrat, not a Liberal, did so? That would wipe the FibDems out of Scotland altogether

12:23 am, July 07, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Jonathan : an interesting post

Of course at one time we did have plenty of councillors in Kendal. I can recall a time when there was a safe Labour ward in Windsor (Clewer South), and Maidenhead (Oldfield), even in Chesham (both Waterside and Pond Park). We are nowhere in sight in these areas now.

12:27 am, July 07, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just on a point of fact Patrick, Labour came third in Epping Forest in both the 1983 and 87 GEs (plus the by-election the following year)

Your more general analysis is pretty sound, though :-)

12:57 am, July 07, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

M/Mike - I think we had councillors in Clewer until a few years ago. As for the others though.......

I remember looking at the 1973 local results (they have a page on Wikipedia) and having a literally jaw-dropping moment when I saw we got around a dozen Labour people elected to Chiltern council!!

I know there was a ward in S Chesham we held until relatively recently, but where the hell did all the rest come from???

12:51 pm, July 07, 2010

Anonymous Stephen said...

That doesn't mean that there aren't some good people in the party, but I would much rather they came over to us. Can you imagine if Charles Kennedy, who is a Social Democrat, not a Liberal, did so?

Hardly likely whilst Labour retains its pathological opposition to civil liberties. There is a reason why social liberals don't vote for you any more. Some have even been arguing that Labour becomes the 'anti-immigration party', which will put a stop to any rapprochment between the left-wing of the LibDems and Labour.

9:14 am, July 08, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

At one time Labour held most of the seats in Chesham. Waterside and Pond park wards were safe Labour. St Mary's, Asheridge Vale, and Townsend ward also voted Labour in a good year. The old unified Chesham ward on the County council often went Labour as well.

The problem is that our vote has almost entirely disappeared in Chesham. OK, its been made worse by having been in power, when government parties always lose loads of council seats, but in some of these laces its been essentially a continuous decline, and in Windsor and Aylesbury, for example, the FibDems have taken over in former Labour wards.

12:10 am, July 09, 2010


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