General election: The Lib Dem-Green-Plaid pact isn’t really a remain alliance

The Tactical Voting Blog: The pact has some interesting targets, and could have unintended consequences

Jon Stone
Thursday 07 November 2019 13:20
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Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru announced on Thursday that they won’t be standing candidates against each other in some seats at the general election. The pact is styled as a “remain alliance” with the stated aim of maximising the number of anti-Brexit MPs in the next parliament.

Under the agreement the Greens will get a free run in 10 seats, the Lib Dems in 43, and Plaid Cymru in 7.

But there are good reasons to be sceptical as to whether this is really a “remain alliance”. The biggest one is that many of the seats targeted are held by strongly remain-supporting Labour MPs.

Lib Dem President Sal Brinton said on Thursday morning that Labour wasn’t included in the pact because “Corbyn stands for Brexit and this is about Remain”. Labour supports a Final Say referendum, though the opposition party is adamant that it is not a “remain party” and merely want to offer the public a choice.

Whether you agree with this analysis or not, some of the choices of seats are certainly eyebrow-raising for a “remain alliance”.

For example, one of the targeted seats is Exeter, a constituency held by Labour’s Ben Bradshaw – one of the most prominent supporters of the People’s Vote campaign. Likewise with Bristol West, a seat held by Thangam Debbonaire, a remainer who even rebelled against the Labour whip so could vote against triggering Article 50.

Stroud is another interesting choice: the seat is highly marginal between Labour and the Conservatives, and the Labour MPs David Drew is on record as supporting a Final Say referendum. Last time he managed to oust the Conservatives incumbent by just 600 votes. The Greens, who will get a clear run at the seat under the agreement, won just 2.2 per cent in 2017.

It’s perfectly legitimate for parties to tactically stand down against each other to increase their chances of winning. To describe this particular arrangement as being in aid of Remain however seems like a stretch given some of the seats involved. The selection seems more driven by which seats the parties want to win, rather than an assessment of whether the sitting MP supports a Final Say or not. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – parties are out to win elections. But it’s not what most people think of when they think of a remain alliance.

It’s also interesting to consider whether the pact might have some unintended consequences. Voters are not automatons and do not always go where party leadership want them to go. For example, it’s entirely possible that in seats where a Green candidate stands down, their voters go not to the Lib Dems, but to Labour – or don’t bother to turn out at all.

One place a version of this effect might be seen is Vale of Glamorgan, where the Liberal Democrats and Plaid will be standing aside, ostensibly to give the Green candidate a clear run (the Greens won 0.8 percent of the vote there in 2017).

The seat is in fact a two-way marginal between Labour (43.4 per cent) and the sitting Tory MP Alun Cairns (47.5 per cent). Mr Cairns notably resigned as a minister over a rape trial scandal earlier this week, but is still the Tory candidate in the seat.

The alliance’s intention is for the 6 per cent of the vote won by Plaid and the Lib Dems in 2017 to go to the Greens this time... but could voters have other ideas, given the tightness of the contest? We won’t know until the early hours of 13 December, but don’t rule it out.

The full list of seats in the alliance is below:

ENGLAND

Green Party – 9 seats

Brighton, Pavilion

Isle of Wight

Bristol West

Bury St Edmunds

Stroud

Dulwich and West Norwood

Forest of Dean

Cannock Chase

Exeter

Liberal Democrats – 40 seats

Bath

Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Buckingham

Cheadle

Chelmsford

Chelsea and Fulham

Cheltenham

Chippenham

Esher and Walton

Finchley and Golders Green

Guildford

Harrogate and Knaresborough

Hazel Grove

Hitchin and Harpenden

North Cornwall

North Norfolk

Oxford West and Abingdon

Penistone and Stocksbridge

Portsmouth South

Richmond Park

Romsey and Southampton North

Rushcliffe

South Cambridgeshire

South East Cambridgeshire

South West Surrey

Southport

Taunton Deane

Thornbury and Yate

Totnes

Tunbridge Wells

Twickenham

Wantage

Warrington South

Watford

Wells

Westmorland and Lonsdale

Wimbledon

Winchester

Witney

York Outer

WALES

Green Party – 1 seat

Vale of Glamorgan

Liberal Democrats – 3 seats

Brecon and Radnorshire

Cardiff Central

Montgomeryshire

Plaid Cymru – 7 seats

Arfon

Caerphilly

Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

Dwyfor Meirionnydd

Llanelli

Pontypridd

Ynys Mon

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