The Liberal Democrats in Harrogate: 'One way bargain' on candidates

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LABOUR COULD help break 'the endless Tory hegemony' by not putting up candidates in the parliamentary seats where the contest was a close one between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, Sir David Steel suggested yesterday.

The former Liberal leader told a fringe meeting he was not in favour of any 'centralised, organised electoral pact' between the parties. 'We had enough difficulty during the period even of popular support between the Liberals and the SDP to want to go through that experience again.'

But he daid: 'If the Labour Party comes to its senses it must recognise that there really is little point in forcing local Labour parties to put up in constituencies where it is a needle battle between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.'

Sir David acknowledged it was a 'one way bargain'. However, it did not hurt Labour and could break the Tory log jam.

Members were being turned away from the meeting, organised by the Guardian, long before Sir David arrived to debate realignment with Malcolm Bruce and the Labour MPs Frank Field and Derek Fatchett.

Mr Field said pacts would not work because the Liberal Democrats would not be able to deliver their vote. If there was a possibility of a Labour victory, maybe half the Liberal Democrat voters would move to the Tories to prevent that coming about.

However, he also foresaw the possibility of local deals if Labour and Liberal Democrat activists believed there was a genuine common purpose to be achieved by defeating the incumbent government.

Malcolm Bruce, MP for Gordon and the party's trade and industry spokesman, said while the party could work with others who shared its beliefs in electoral reform, including Conservatives, the best way to get the radical reforms the party wanted was to keep its programme at the top of the political agenda.

'I feel that we are placing far too great an emphasis on talking to others; let's not muddy the waters,' Mr Bruce said.

(Photograph omitted)