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.

29 Responses to “Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories”

  1. DrKMJ

    Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg via @leftfootfwd

  2. Daniel Simms

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg

  3. mark wright

    totally agreeRT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg

  4. tamsinchan

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg

  5. Olly Grender

    RT@leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude a distraction from real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9QrIfj excellent blog by @wdjstraw

  6. anyleftiwonder

    Could not agree more ! Attacking Clegg who is really a Tory in Lib Dem clothing is letting the true Tories get away with everything. The Labour leadership contest has taken far too long and I only hope whoever wins will make up for loss time in attacking the Tories.

  7. eduardosuarez

    RT @OllyGrender: RT@leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude a distraction from real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9QrIfj excellent …

  8. Tish Nadesan

    @leftfootfwd says Lib Dem schadenfreude not in Labour's interest //bit.ly/9uanXg – good point, should focus on revitalising own policy

  9. LDK

    To be perfectly fair to Ed Miliband, his (I think) mate Simon Hughes was hardly favourable towards the Labour party and its future in the speech on 16th May which is believed by many to have brought the party’s Left behind the coalition deal:

    //simonhughes.org.uk/news/000263/speech_to_special_liberal_democrat_federal_party_conference__birmingham_16th_may_2010.html

  10. Anon E Mouse

    Will – There is something else you haven’t considered here.

    What if the public want another coalition between the Tories and Lib Dems next time?

  11. David Aaronovitch

    Will Straw's version of the Ashley piece. //bit.ly/9ZJNcV Note the horrid idea of Jenny Tonge joining Labour. #unwantedrecruits

  12. william

    Forget fighting the Conservative party.For labour to win the next election,it has to demonstrate to the electorate that it has learnt the lesson of it’s disastrous mismanagement of the economy.a little bit of humility, rather than command and control from another gordon brown loony, would also help

  13. Neil Hughes

    Labour need to stop attacking the Lib Dems over some imagined 'betrayal' and be a real opposition //bit.ly/9ZJNcV

  14. ambir

    Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //ff.im/-pyEpk

  15. Chris

    @Will Straw

    In how many of the tory held targets is the combined Labour, LibDem vote bigger than the tories? As the LibDems have quietly infiltrated many former Labour wards, won the council seats and then told voters during the GE that only they could stop the tories in this constituency, isn’t that a joke now.

    So, locally taking on the LibDems is an important task because they have been building up in areas over many years and put great store by local issues, local democracy, etc campaigning. EdM is right in former Labour strong holds we do need to get the LibDems out. But nationally, as you say, we need to demonstrate the madness of the tory economic plans and how nasty their plans for public services really are.

    Although, the schadenfreude of watching the LibDems being wiped out would be almost as good as injecting heroin.

  16. D Mills

    Surely the point is, we will beat Tories if we can get people who used to vote Lib Dem to vote for us – so Ed M’s point is a good one.

    By the time of the last election, there were millions of people who were turned off Labour due to Iraq, id cards, surveillance state, illiberalism generally – not to mention the unthinking statism and gigantism which, tonally at least, set liberal-minded social democrats’ teeth on edge. These people proved impervious to appeals to vote for us to stop the Tories, and thought they could vote Lib Dem and also stop them. How wrong they were! But we shouldn’t just think they will drift back. They opted to vote for the Lib Dems because they presented a better offer.

    Our job now – remove any reason for a centrist Lib Dem or a liberally-inclined social democrat to do anything other than vote Labour. That could get us another, say, 5% in the polls – if one quarter of Lib Dem voters come to us, and maybe a sliver of our right-wing support defects in protest (tho it’s hard to think that more than a few die-hard Blunkettites voted for us on ID cards – and given that the two parties pledged to scrap them are now in government, we should consider whether an appeal to the old-right will bring us back to government)

    Of course we have to attack the Tories, but while the Tories are our mortal enemy, the Lib Dems were (at least til they went into govt with the Tories) trying to replace us as the main non-Tory party in Britain (there will ALWAYS be a Tory party).

    Now they’ve gone into govt with the Tories, that plan has had to be shelved (to say the least!)

    So, Lib Dem voters should be our prime target – for a start, anyone who goes to the polls and actually votes Lib Dem is pretty committed to voting. After a few years of Clegg tarring his party with the Tory brush, they will be open to an intelligent offer from us. But it must be based on acknowledging why they didn’t vote for us last time.

  17. Jeevan Rai

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg

  18. James Graham

    Is the sensible wing of the Labour Party finally starting to calm down? //bit.ly/aHRrS9 //bit.ly/b0fOh6 I hope so.

  19. Anon E Mouse

    D Mills – I agree with the majority of your post but what no one seems to want to consider, either on the left or right, that the coalition might just work.

    On the agreement the government has it is a fact that the public, as you rightly imply do not want ID Cards – I base that on the fact both the Tories and Lib Dems made clear their desire to get rid of them – the two parties command a majority together – and so they will.

    All Cleg has to do is weather the storm on his ratings for three years and get the credit when the pain is over and the goodies get handed out next election. And this time the false promises from Mandelson spending other peoples money – ours, will not be available to Labour.

    Remember as well that for the first time in decades the Liberals will be able to say not only have they been in government, taken the hard decisions blah blah and it will be true and if the economy and jobs situation has turned in the countries favour they can share the credit with the electorate.

    Oppositions don’t win elections – governments lose them and although I wouldn’t have believed there would be a hung Parliament when one remembers Clegg and Cameron on the covers of the newspapers with Joanna Lumley after the Lib Dem’s had masterminded the Gurkha’s vote the coalition now looks obvious.

    People in Britain have their hearts with the centre left but their heads to the right and when things get tough financially they tend to vote Tory. And things historically have always been tough after Labour governments wreck the economy and as usual blame anyone but themselves.

    The best thing Labour can do is attack both the Tories and Lib Dem’s and wait for them to screw up. Which they will. It’s just events.

  20. Philip Hunt

    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.

    Then surely the issue for Labour is to attract those former Lib Dem voters, so that they switch to Labour, instead of half of them switching to the Tories? This would be especially apply if the next election was fought using AV. The way for Labour to achieve this would be to keep the main thrust of their policies regarding helping the poor, while dropping those policies that have alienated Lib Dem supporters — the attack on civil liberties (e.g. ID cards, Digital Economy Act, Civil Contingencies Act, etc), and opposition to electoral reform.

  21. Philip Hunt

    D Mills:

    Our job now – remove any reason for a centrist Lib Dem or a liberally-inclined social democrat to do anything other than vote Labour. That could get us another, say, 5% in the polls

    I disagree, Labour could potentially get a good deal more than that. The Lib Dems got 23% at the last election. If about half of those are left-leaning, and the coalition is unpopular and doing badly in 2015, then Labour could easily pick up half of these votes, say 11.5%.

    The way to do this, as you say, is not to set these people’s teeth on edge: Labour should drop the millstone of its illiberal policies, and should embrace PR.

  22. TimJenner

    RT @leftfootfwd: Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //bit.ly/9uanXg

  23. Tom Sheppard

    Good article from Will Straw:
    Lib Dem schadenfreude is a distraction from the real job of fighting the Tories //j.mp/cXfsH6

  24. Mr. Sensible

    Whether Labour should target the Lib Dems or Tories is an interesting one.

    In my area, at the General Election, the sitting Labour MP lost out to the Tories in my view due to losing votes to the Lib Dems, when their candidate went round saying he could win, despite reality showing a different conclusion.

    Yes, this is pretty much a Tory government, but the Lib Dems must be targeted too; they changed their mind on the defecit, and just about everything else.

    A balance has to be struck.

  25. Mike

    Agreed we should be moving our sights onto demolishing the real enemy the Nasty Tories

    but its so easy to kick the Lib Dems, so many open goals

    “never mind the cuts, job loses….we may stop wheel clamping”

  26. Will Straw

    Thanks for all the comments. Of course, Labour can walk and chew gum, and any serious party in a three party system has to appeal to as broad a coalition as possible. But Labour supporters need to be clear about the electoral maths.

    Under the current system, with AV, and/or with 600 MPs the party’s main fights are in 2-way marginals with the Tories. Yes, in some cases, a few Lib Dem switchers will make the difference. And yes, there is lots to be said for adopting a set of policies that make those who deserted Labour for the Lib Dems want to come back. But if the Coalition does anything to realign British politics, it will be to recreate a 2-party system.

    At present, the Tories have extended their lead to 40%. If Labour wants to govern again, it has to win votes from the Tories.

  27. william

    at long last some common sense.’If labour wants to govern again,it has to win votes from the tories’.the first thing to do is to admit that the past was dominated by mismanaging the economy and that, in future, no labour party would increase public expenditure above the current gdp growth rate.period.winning votes from the tories means saying goodbye to scottish leaders that the english vote will never again even tolerate.

  28. Ash

    Will –

    “Under the current system, with AV, and/or with 600 MPs the party’s main fights are in 2-way marginals with the Tories. Yes, in some cases, a few Lib Dem switchers will make the difference.”

    Well… I suppose that, in a typical Labour-Tory marginal (where the Tories have a 2,000 vote lead over Labour, say) Labour would have to win over 2,001 Lib Dem voters to take the seat but only 1,001 Tory voters; so in that sense it looks easier to win by wooing Tories. But then it doesn’t seem wholly unreasonable to think that it might be easier to win over 2,001 Lib Dems than 1,001 Tories, just because Lib Dem voters have so much more natural affinity with Labour. And Labour also have to retain their own voters, of course – it’s no use trying to appeal to natural Tory voters if the result is that natural Labour voters desert the party. So I don’t think it’s just obvious that the way to win Labour-Tory marginals is to win over Tory voters; it seems equally plausible that the way to win those seats is to win over Lib Dems. (Certainly in my own constituency it was the flight of Labour voters to the Lib Dems that let the Tories in; the logical thing to do, then, would surely be to focus on winning back those voters rather than appealing to dyed-in-the-wool Tories.)

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