Saturday, 29 January 2011

Tory / Lib Dem Electoral Pact on the Cards

The Independent newspaper reported on Friday 28th January here,that senior members of both coalition parties are thinking of entering into an electoral pact at the next general election.

When I first saw the Oldham East by-election result, I was struck by how well the Lib Dems had done, considering their plummeting opinion poll ratings. The Independent piece though, claims that Tory voters’ voted tactically for the Lib Dems as the best way to defeat Labour. As it happens, Labour won, with the Tory vote down sharply but the Lib Dem vote down only slightly. The reasoning for this put forward in The Independent was Tory voters switching to the Lib Dems, and thus avoiding wipe out for their coalition partners.

Figures in both governing parties are openly suggesting that they should give each other an easy ride in future by-elections and at the next general election, citing the low profile campaign in Oldham East by the Tories, as a template for the future. The thinking is that an anti-Labour electoral alliance could be constructed to keep the coalition government in power for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, I argued here on this blog, that if the Alternative Vote referendum is passed into law, which is a big if at present, then this will help facilitate the Tory and Lib Dem strategy even more. That is, they will then be able to openly state that their voter’s second preference votes under AV, should be given to their coalition partner. Together with the government’s proposed boundary changes and the reduction of the number of constituencies (those that will disappear are all Labour held seats in inner cities) this could well keep the coalition in power for as long as Mubarak in Egypt.

So, why should the Green party be concerned about Labour being permanently out of government? Well, it is true that Labour are no ‘greener’ than the Tories or Lib Dems, perhaps even less so, and that their social policies were only slightly better than the current government’s when they were in office.

From a Green party electoral point of though, I can only see us getting any influence at Westminster in a coalition or such with a minority Labour government. Labour (members anyway) are closer to Green party social policy than either Tories or the new right wing Lib Dems, and personally I get on better with Labour people than Tories or Lib Dems in general. Despite the last couple of decades, a lot of Labour people still see themselves as on the left politically, which is perhaps more of a gut feeling these days than anything particularly demonstrable, but all the same I think it would make it easier for us Greens to connect with Labour than the other main parties.

As I explained in the previous post referred to earlier, AV would not significantly help a Labour / Green electoral pact, and the danger is that we will be stuck with the coalition in government with no realistic means of ejecting them from office. Also, it will encourage elements in the Labour party to tack even further to right, to try and win over right wing voters, which will lead to us having a permanent reactionary government, even if Labour does gain power again.


Chris Millman, Bristol North said...

Can't se it. The Conservative right wing abhor the Lib Dem brake on their ambitions and won't vote for them as a second preference. The feeling is mutual among social democratic Lib Dems, who are more likely to give their second preferences to Labour, as that is the party they would prefer to be in coalition with. As a Green I don't much care which of our opponents takes advantage of AV, the difference for us is that our first preference votes will properly reflect our support and transform the credibility of our party and our cause.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

I disagree with you Chris, and the Oldham East result seems to bear this out.

Asfor the Green party, we don't get enough first pref votes to have any use for second pref, read my previous post for an explanation.

The point is, we make it easier with AV for a right wing consensus to rule us forever.

Anonymous said...

It’s too simplistic to say Old and Sad Tory voters switched to Liberal Democrats – voters aren’t owned by political parties. There seems to have been quite a churn.

I see Lib Dem Prof Richard Grayson is speaking at the Green Party Conference - so an electoral pact must be on the cards!

Mike Shaughnessy said...

No one is saying they are old or sad, it's just them acting out of commonsense, a commodity plainly absent from the Green party approach to the issue.

cgcenet said...

@Mike: You are misrepresenting the article in the Independent. It refers to senior Tories discussing the idea of electoral pacts. Not Lib Dems. There is virtually no support for electoral pacts in the Lib Dems (declaration of interest: I am a Lib Dem party member). There is a very good reason for this. Whatever form a pact would take, be it standing aside, "soft-pedalling" or preference deals (if the country votes "Yes" to AV), it would destroy the Lib Dems. It would NOT lead to permanent centre-right coalition, because all left-leaning Lib Dem voters (there are still some) would take their votes elsewhere (many, I would expect, to your party). And Lib Dem activists on the ground would have no interest in campaigning as a sub-brand of the Tories, eventually to be fully assimilated, and would join another party, form a new party or give up politics altogether.

As "anonymous" pointed out, with reference to preference deals, voters aren't owned by their parties. You assume that the Lib Dem high-command could recommend their voters to place Tories 2nd, and most Lib Dem voters would do so. B*ll*cks. What would actually happen is that left-leaning Lib Dems would take their votes elsewhere as noted above, while right-leaning Lib Dem voters would see no reason to vote Lib Dem instead of Tory, and would most likely vote Tory 1st. The 3rd party would be destroyed, which would probably be good from the Green Party's point of view, as there would be an opening.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

An interesting analysis cgcenet, but I didn't hearany Lib Dems complaining when you scraped into 3rd place on the back of Tory votes in Oldham East!

On the contrary, if the country votes no to AV, then the Lib Dems are finished. It was the only thing that Clegg got out of coalition deal, apart Dep PM post.

Yes, many Lib Dems may come over to the Greens, though I suspect more will join Labour, where there chance of being elected, or getting some sort of patronage is much higher.

Equally voters will mainly go to Labour, but a minority will come our way. Although you understate the effect leaders can have on the voters, look at how the Lib Dems soared after Clegg stood next to Brown and Cameron on the TV debates.

I hope the right of the Lib dems joins the Tories, and the left joins Labour or Green party. Then the Green party can represent a proper left constituency, and give voters the choice of voting for it. The Lib Dems just get in the way, with their right here, left there tactic. Let's have a credible left alternative in UK politics.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Sorry, meant 2nd place in Oldham East.

cgcenet said...

Well, Lib Dems have never complained when Labourites lend us their votes either. It has never stopped us campaigning against Labour in Lib Dem-Lab battleground seats. And nor will there be any reciprocation of Tory soft-pedalling by Lib Dems, especially not in Lib Dem-Tory battleground seats. [And Lib Dems don't care if this means Labour coming in through the middle.]

I know that the leader can have a strong effect on a party's standing in the polls. What I find implausible is the idea that ordinary voters will vote en masse for whatever "ticket" the leader of their preferred party says they should. It is especially unlikely for the Lib Dems, who do not have the kind of tribal voter base that, say, Labour have, and whose activists resent being told what to do by the leadership. If voters don't like the ticket, they'll put their preferences elsewhere, and the Lib Dem message wouldn't get heard anyway because there would be hardly any Lib Dem activists willing to campaign for a "Vote 1. Lib Dem 2. Tory" ticket.

You seem to have conceded that if the Lib Dem vote collapses then the party's vote will go all over the place. So you should understand that the biggest danger of a Con-Dem electoral pact (of any kind) is not a permanent right-wing coalition, it's the restoration of a two-party system. It's easy to see the appeal from a Tory point of view: they get to vanquish the third party by absorbing some of its members as "National Liberal Democrats" and leaving the rest in the wilderness. And it's equally easy to see why Lib Dems are absolutely opposed to the idea.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Yes, you posed as left of Labour, then did a deal with Tories, and left voters will punish you for that.

I think there is plenty of room for a 3rd party, particularly of the left, which is a massive constituency. But we don't want an unprincipled, wishy washy, sit on the fence, see which way the wind blows type of 3rd party, aka the Lib Dems.

At least now you stand an unambiguous party of the right. Good luck to you, I think you will need it.

Geoff said...

I think Mike you're unfair to the Lib Dems. As a longstanding Green Party member (never been a Lib Dem by the way, so no interest there) I think Chris's analysis is more or less correct. Whilst sadly many Lib Dem leaders seem unprincipled in their pursuit of power, so do all the others: look what happened to Labour. In fact it should be called the turncoat party since their whole history under Blair (and Brown) was to embrace the dismantling of the welfare state in general, particularly the cornerstones of health & education - far more shameful than the Tories actually who at least under Thatcher, and since, have adhered to what they unfortunately believe in (although actually more a liberal-tory philosophy than pure patrician Conservatism these days; probably why they get on so well with the Cleggs of this world.)

But no, most rank and file Lib Dems I think are indeed more likely to vote to support Labour than Tory. What we have at the moment is a 'civil partnership'! between Clegg's right wing Lib Dems and Cameron's Left/Centre Tories.

As cgnet points out - for the Lib Dems to enter any kind of electoral pact with the Tories would be political suicide, wiping them off the electoral map. And most in any case feel naturally more comfortable with Labour or indeed the Greens. They are part of the natural Centre/Leftofcentre majority in this country. This is why a right wing coalition could never rule 'forever'.

I also agree with Chris about AV. I think our policy is the rational one under the circumstances - granted AV is not at all proportional - but this is the only chance we've ever had to change at all from FPTP. To oppose it just out of principle is likely to put back any chance of change for decades, if not for ever. Neither Tory nor Labour parties support any change to a system which we know entrenches their duopoly - the simple basic thing is that neither wants to give anyone else a chance. They tolerate each other so that they can say that Britain is a 'democracy' - because there has to be a credible opposition in parliament for Britain to be seen as such. Remember it's a hundred years since the Liberals were in government. I suppose the only reason why Cameron succumbed to a coalition in the aftermath of the election was fear: he feared a Labour-Lib Dem deal and when it failed he didn't have the guts to form a minority government and then force a second general election. Had he done so, the Tories would almost certainly have won outright, and any electoral change would have been right off the agenda; bad strategy from a Tory point of view.

But from the point of view of any smaller party, it was the only chance at changing our voting system for the forseeable future and as Chris points out, at least we will have the opportunity of seeing more realistically what Green support is like in the country. I suspect that many people who've previously wanted to vote Green but haven't will now do so, knowing that their second preference will count if the Greens don't win. That will give the Greens a lot more credibility, as it will be reported in the press (look at our great headline media coverage after the 1989 Euro elections when we got 15% of the vote but no seats). That should have a knock on effect at the following election (and indeed at local elections too.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

Thanks for your lenghty comment Geoff.

When I read the first couple of sentences, I thought, here's a supporter of AV, and so it transpired.

Yes, I do blame Clegg and his cabal (or should that be Cable) for the deal with the Tories, but as I have said, I had little regard for the rank and file of the Lib Dems anyway, having watched them close up here in Haringey.

I really don't believe AV is a step in the right direction, quite the reverse. It seems to me that the Green party is walking blindly into an elephant trap (read my refered to post for an explanation of how this will do nothing for the Greens).

If you want to support AV on an 'increasing democracy' line, then that's one thing, I don't agree, but to try and say AV is somehow progressive, is a very shallow assessment.

Oh, and if you want to see shameful, just watch this government, they will be worse than Thatcher or Blair.