Labour should withdraw candidates in Lib-Con marginals

Labour should withdraw its candidates in the 30 seats where there is a clear fight between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Our guest writers are Guy Lodge and Leo Ringer of the Institute for Public Policy Research

Ed Balls and Peter Hain have today both urged voters to vote tactically to keep the Conservatives out of power. Unsurprisingly Balls and Hain have more to say about Lib Dem voters in the 100 or so Labour-Tory marginals: Balls would like them to ‘bite their lip’ and back Labour on May 6th. Conversely, both hint that Labour voters should support the Lib Dem candidate in those seats where Labour has no chance of winning.

But if Labour was seriously committed to building a ‘progressive alliance’ it might go further than simply urging tactical voting. A much bolder way for it to demonstrate its enthusiasm for a realignment of the centre left would be for it to withdraw its candidates in the 30 seats where there is a clear fight between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Assuming the Labour vote would switch to the Lib Dems rather than to the Tories, then such a move could see the Lib Dems take at least 10 seats from the Tories on Thursday, including the seat of Oliver Letwin in West Dorset.

It would also help the Lib Dems defend a further 10 seats from the Tories, including the Eastleigh seat of the party’s home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne. In other words should Labour withdraw candidates in these seats they could easily deprive the Tories of at least 20 MPs. Nor would this affect Labour’s national share of the vote – they are desperate to avoid coming third overall – since they poll so few votes (roughly about 10-15 per cent) in Tory-Lib Dem marginals.

Labour should be prepared to stand down candidates in these seats without insisting on the Lib Dems returning the favour in Tory-Labour marginals. This is about Labour showing its commitment to cementing a ‘progressive alliance’ in British politics – something it has failed to do while in power, and which it has only returned to very late in the day.

And who knows where it might lead? Should there be a hung parliament there could be another election later this year – might this be the moment when the old Gladstone-Macdonald electoral pact of the Edwardian age is formally revived? The Lib Dems might be more encouraged to look at this if Labour helped them out on May 6th.

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