Labour and the Liberal Democrats are in talks over an informal “non-aggression” pact where they will concentrate their resources at the next general election on ousting Conservative MPs rather than fighting each other, it has emerged.
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The two parties have “rejected any talk of a formal general election pact”, The Times reported. But are considering striking a deal as there are “only a handful of three-way marginals where either the Tories, Lib Dems or Labour could realistically win”.
According to the Financial Times, Keir Starmer has told colleagues that his party must “ruthlessly focus” resources on its target seats in the election, meaning it will put up only a “minimal campaign” in most of the Lib Dems’ top 30 target seats.
The overwhelming priority
Senior Labour sources told The Times that due to its “limited resources”, the party has concluded that it should target campaign spending only on seats where it has a realistic chance of defeating the Tories.
Meanwhile, Lib Dem figures have said that “in 2019 it came second to the Tories in about 90 seats and its priority would be to target ‘dozens’ of these constituencies”, the paper added. A number of these “were considered safe Lib Dem seats before the losses they suffered after being in coalition with the Conservatives”.
A Starmer ally told the FT that “if both parties put resources into where they are most likely to win, you end up with more Labour seats and more Lib Dem seats”.
A Lib Dem strategist added that “if Labour and the Liberal Democrats spend all their time and money trying to beat each other it’s really not good for progressive politics”. Both “need to fight in the areas where we can win and that is the overwhelming priority”.
What impact could it have?
Reports of a pact will not come as a surprise to everyone. Writing on The Times’ Red Box, political reporter Patrick Maguire said the arrangement was Westminster’s “worst-kept secret” even though Labour are “still manfully denying it is anything but coincidence”.
Some would argue that this sort of agreement has been in place for recent by-elections.
In the Batley and Spen by-election, the Lib Dem campaign was “virtually invisible”, the FT said. And Labour gave the Lib Dems a “clear run” in the North Shropshire and Chesham and Amersham polls.
At the general election, expected in 2024, an “informal Lib-Lab non-aggression pact” would leave the Lib Dems to lead the anti-Tory fight in many southern seats, while Labour would focus on winning back “red wall” seats in the north and midlands.
Meanwhile, senior Tories are concerned that this arrangement will make the party even more vulnerable to the rising threat of the Lib Dems.
“Conservative voters and Lib Dem voters are not too dissimilar and the Tories have grown increasingly aware of that,” one senior Tory MP told the FT, adding that “there is a certain type of voter who will feel alienated by ‘partygate’ and the emphasis on red wall voters” and “might just switch to the Lib Dems”.
The paper crunched the numbers and found that if the Lib Dems were to win 15 of their target Tory seats, it would reduce the Tory’s 77-seat majority by 30, “considerably reducing the scale of the challenge facing Starmer in clawing his way to power”.
Another consequence of the pact could be an increased likelihood of a post-election “confidence and supply” deal in a hung parliament between the Labour and the Lib Dems, the paper added. This could see the Lib Dems agree to prop up a Labour government and support its Budget in exchange for specific policies.
The news could also have implications north of the border, according to one of the UK’s most prominent psephologists. Professor John Curtice told The National that Starmer’s “non-aggression” pact with the Liberal Democrats suggests that the party knows it may not win back its historic Scottish strongholds.
He predicted that Labour could therefore snub the Scottish National Party’s voters as it concedes defeat in Scotland and focuses on wooing English Brexiteers instead.