Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories

Ed Miliband wants the Liberal Democrats "extinct". Since only 1-in-10 target seats are held by the Lib Dems, Labour must instead fight the Tories.

Today’s papers are full of stories about the Liberal Democrats after Nick Clegg’s first week “minding the shop“. Jackie Ashley wisely wraps Ed Miliband on the knuckles for his remarks calling for the “extinction” of the Lib Dems. She is absolutely right and Labour should remember who the real enemy is: the Conservatives.

At the weekend, Ed Miliband told the Kilmarnock Labour party:

“we have to make the Lib Dems an endangered species – and then extinct”.

No doubt the line got a big cheer. But it does not contain any strategic insight. To win an overall majority at the next election under the current electoral system and with 650 MPs, Labour will have to win 67 seats. As UK Polling Report shows, only nine of these target seats are held by the Liberal Democrats. The vast majority – 87 per cent – are Conservative-held seats. Indeed, a Lib Dem collapse would help the Conservatives. A uniform 5 per cent swing against the Liberal Democrats would result in twice as many Conservative gains. The picture barely changes under AV or a reduced House of Commons.

After the weekend excitement over Charles Kennedy’s refuted plans to join Labour, the Independent reveals that other Lib Dems are considering the switch:

“Labour has targeted Mike Hancock, the Portsmouth South MP, as a possible recruit. He admitted that he had received a serious approach from the veteran left-winger Dennis Skinner and refused to rule out defecting. He said: “It’s too early to consider anything.”

“The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge said she had had “all sorts of chats with the Labour party” and told The Sunday Times she was prepared to resign the party whip if benefits for the poor and unemployed were cut in the spending review. She said: “In the Lords, a lot of senior figures in the party are unhappy.”

All well and good if it happens. But the schadenfreude over the Liberal Democrats poll ratings or Nick Clegg’s poor press is a distraction from the real business of fighting the Conservative party and setting out an alternative story on the economy, society, and Britain’s place in the world.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.