By Cllr Khaled Moyeed
On 12 November 2019, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Canterbury, Tim Walker stood down and pledged his support for the incumbent Labour MP, Rosie Duffield who is defending a majority of 187. Walker is facing disciplinary action from his own party and Jo Swinson has installed an outside candidate to replace him. On the following day, the Liberal Democrat candidate in High Peak, Guy Kiddey expressed solidarity with Walker and urged voters in his own constituency to vote Labour. The incumbent Labour MP, Ruth George is defending a majority of 2,322 there. The Lib Dems finished a distant third in both constituencies at the last general election.
Actions of both Walker and Kiddey during an election campaign are unprecedented, but entirely commendable. Other Lib Dem candidates across the country in Labour-Tory marginals should also stand down. The Brexit Party has stepped aside in all seats with a Tory MP. If the Liberal Democrats do not stand down their candidates in Labour-Tory marginals, we risk electing a hard right Conservative government in alliance with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. Our NHS will be at risk and the Lib Dems would be enabling a hard Tory Brexit.
The time has come for the Lib Dems to put national interests first. Jo Swinson’s talks of being a candidate for Prime Minister and suing ITV to be included in the Leaders’ Debate are not cutting through to voters. Their polling has remained static and in some cases, they have gone down. It is Labour that is on an upward trend with a Survation poll showing that Labour are only six points behind the Tories with another month to go before the election. Labour has not even unveiled its manifesto yet. It was the manifesto which helped Labour close the gaps on the Tories in the 2017 election. Labour has a radical and transformative programme, which will once again prove to be a vote winner.
Like the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems are not contesting in a number of seats as part of the so-called ‘Remain Alliance’ with the Greens and Plaid Cymru. It has emerged that candidates in ten of the 13 Labour-held seats targeted by the Remain Alliance have a strongly pro-Remain Labour candidate. This is surely a tactical mistake. The Lib Dems and their allies risk splitting the vote and allowing the Tory candidates in some of these seats to win. Take Penistone and Stocksbridge for example, where the Greens did not contest and the Lib Dems came a distant fourth with 2,042 and the Labour candidate won with a majority of 1,322 in 2017. The Remain Alliance is targeting this seat and there is a risk that it will allow the Tory candidate to win.
The Lib Dems have argued that they would only stand down candidates if the Labour Party reciprocates. The Brexit party initially made similar demands of the Conservatives, but it finally realised that this was never going to happen in a two-party system and stood its candidates down unilaterally because it valued its objective of achieving Brexit more than Swinson seems to value her objective of stopping it.
At the last general election, the Lib Dems came a distant fourth winning only 12 constituencies across the country. There are some signs that they will improve on this at this general election but there are no major signs that they will make significant gain. They keep referring to their relative success at the European election when they finished second behind the Brexit Party. If we follow their logic, the Brexit Party would be in pole position to win this election. That is not the case.
The Lib Dems’ position to revoke Brexit without a confirmatory referendum is not popular and will harm their chances at this election. With this policy, Jo Swinson has effectively become the Nigel Farage of Remain. Even Caroline Lucas whose Green Party is in the so called ‘Remain Alliance’ criticised the Lib Dems for adopting such an overtly anti-democratic position. It is not sustainable in a democracy to cancel what 17.4 million voted for without asking them again even if the Lib Dems win an outright majority in this election. The Conservatives achieved 13.6 million votes with a 42.4% vote share at the last general election. That is still fewer than 17.4 million in the unlikely scenario that the Lib Dems come top of the polls next month.
It is more than likely that the Lib Dems will once again finish fourth behind the two main parties and the SNP. They can however play a critical role in this election, because they hold the balance of power in a number of Labour-Tory marginals. In Kensington, for example, the Labour candidate, Emma Dent Coad is defending a wafer thin majority of 20. The Lib Dem candidate, Sam Gyimah should stand down and throw his weight behind the Labour incumbent to ensure that the Tories do not win there. Similarly, in the Cities of London and Westminster, the Tory majority is only 3,148. The Lib Dems came third with 4,270. They should withdraw their candidate, Chuka Umunna and focus on ensuring that the Labour candidate wins. The more Labour candidates we have across the country, the chances of a confirmatory Brexit referendum increase and the risks of a hard right Tory government decrease. It is a no-brainer and the Lib Dems should act in the national interest.