Thoughts on the Richmond Park by-election result

The Labour party incomprehensibly decided to run a kamikaze Labour candidate in the Richmond Park by-election, thereby risking diverting enough votes from the LibDem challenger to let the discredited Zac Goldsmith (Tory but running as an independent) back in. Happily this didn’t happen, thanks to the good sense of the Richmond voters who rightly saw this as a two-horse race in which by far the better runner was the LibDem.  So Labour, sadly but entirely predictably, was wiped out and its candidate lost his deposit.

In reply to people on the Labour website LabourList who argued that it was right to run a Labour candidate because the LibDems aren’t really “progressive” — they voted for student tuition fees in the coalition government, for goodness sake — I posted the following comment:

I struggle to understand how anyone can seriously argue that Labour was right to field a candidate in this by-election. Doing so could predictably have one of only two possible results: (1) Labour, with absolutely no hope of winning the seat, could have diverted enough votes from the only serious challenger, the LibDem, to split the anti-Goldsmith vote, thus allowing Goldsmith to win, which would have been in effect a victory for the Tory government, preserving its majority: or else (2) Labour would (and did) suffer the humiliation of being heavily defeated and losing its candidate’s deposit, thus reinforcing the strong impression that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is completely irrelevant, with its impenetrable but cowardly position on Brexit (both for it and against it, for heaven’s sake) and its complete lack of a coherent policy on any other issue since the Spanish civil war.

Fortunately it is the second of these that came to pass – “fortunately” because it was always the lesser of the two evils. It should be obvious by now, even to the most passionate Labour tribalist, that Labour on its own has not got a cat’s chance in hell of winning a general election in the foreseeable future. That being so, the only way to replace this blundering reactionary Tory government is for the left-of-centre, progressive parties to co-operate on the extensive policies and values that they have in common in order to form a government with majority support in parliament. Shrilly denouncing the LibDems as “not progressive” or attacking the SNP because it’s for Scottish secession is delusional and politically illiterate.
There’s plenty of scope for selective cooperation with both, plus the Greens and Plaid and others, with the vital common purpose of getting the Tories out. Those who prefer their precious socialist purity to that reality are guilty of betraying the millions whose lives are blighted by Tory policies of austerity and inequality and whose only hope of a decent future depends on a progressive alliance government, either in a new coalition of the centre-left or as a minority Labour government with agreed support from the other progressive parties. Not as good as a majority Labour government, but a heck of a lot better than the +sole+ alternative, which is Tory government as far ahead as the eye can see — quite possibly in some kind of unholy alliance with UKIP.

Time to wake up to the realities, and to take responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of our actions. Which those responsible for the utterly perverse decision to run a Labour candidate in Richmond Park conspicuously failed to do.

Statements of the obvious!


8 Responses

  1. Peter Martin says:


    I’m sure we all follow the logic of the argument. If in any constituency the anti-Tory vote is split, or the anti- Independent vote in this case, and the Lib Dem candidate has the greater chance of winning then the Labour candidate should stand down to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote.

    It’s better to have a Lib Dem MP than a Tory, right?

    But what happens when the Labour MP has the better chances of winning? Is the Lib Dem candidate going to stand down then? I don’t think so!

    And even if they did would the Lib Dems be able to guarantee the votes of their supporters?

  2. Bob says:

    Brian, I strongly agree about Labour’s stupidity in running a candidate in Richmond – and just look how nearly that ‘strategy’ came to letting Goldenballs back in. Had Caroline Lucas been equally politically illiterate as to also run a candidate, there’s little doubt the Greens would have eaten into the Lib Dem vote and swung it for Zac!

    On the wider picture, although I still hesitate about throwing in our labour lot with ‘other progressive parties’, the ineptness shown by JC et al in barging so dangerously into Richmond makes me stop and think very hard: is there a deluded purity about the whole JC + Momentum business which is leading us towards permanent obscurity? Listening to henchperson Diane Abbott recently I’ve had the strong impression that she’s not as clear-headed and incisive as she used to be. Her attack this week – on R4’s The World at One – on Dan Jarvis’s reasonable suggestion that Labour ought to have a special shadow minister for immigration was simply rude and petulant. She’s fast losing credibility with ‘old Labour’ friends of mine – and with me too.

    Final comment: I watched an exceptional Question Time from Wakefield yesterday – 10 miles from where I grew up. An outspoken audience of strong-minded people – variously qualified professionally and not – were clearly miles from being the Labour voters most of them should have been by tradition and inclination. Why? One thing they made clear was their scorn for and hatred of the ‘metropolitan elites’. That’s thee  and me, Brian. The question isn’t just how justified are they to hold these views, but how and who will bring them back to Labour. Maybe it will have to be via a coalition of the willing…as you suggest. To achieve it in our lifetimes, that is!

  3. Brian says:

    Brian writes:
    In reply to Peter: Any decision not to run a Labour candidate in constituencies where a LibDem (or Green or Plaid) has the better chance of defeating the Tory would clearly depend on a reciprocal agreement (formal or informal) with the other centre-left parties that they would do the same where Labour had the best chance of defeating the Tory. It would obviously be impossible to force voters whose party was not running a candidate to vote for the strongest available centre-left candidate, but the Richmond Park result strongly suggests that many voters would instinctively follow that course:  even when Labour stubbornly insisted on running a candidate there, despite the risk that doing so would let in the Tory, numerous people who would normally vote Labour, including some party members!, opted very sensibly to vote for the LibDem and consequently achieved the desired result. They showed more political and practical common sense than the Labour national leadership which seems to have forced the local party to run a candidate against its will.

    The greatest difficulty over a formal or informal electoral pact of the kind envisaged will I think arise in Scotland, where Scottish Labour and the SNP are such bitter enemies that any such pact might be impossible — especially as it would involve many more Labour candidates standing down than SNP.  Scotland might just have to opt out of the pact and rely on SNP support in parliament for pre-agreed policies of a minority Labour government.

    In reply to Bob: I agree that the weakness and indecisiveness of the present Labour leadership, and its lack of sound judgement, will constitute an obstacle to the kind of informal progressive alliance that most of us recognise as a precondition for ousting the Tories from government.  There’s not much to be done about that, unless and until that leadership commits a blunder so outrageous that even the new members attracted by Mr Corbyn come to realise that he and those who surround and manage him are condemning the party to permanent irrelevance and obscurity.  Ed Balls, where are you now that we need you?  All is forgiven!

  4. Acilius says:

    You may well be right, but I do not think that the matter is quite so obvious as all that. Nothing lasts forever; political parties eventually go extinct. It would be to the advantage of Labour for the Lib Dems to go extinct at the first opportunity, ideally in the immediate aftermath of that party’s failure to win any seats at the next General Election. If the Lib Dems were to enter that election with eight sitting MPs, they would be so much the likelier to lose every seat than they would be entering it with nine.

    Moreover, if Labour make it clear that they will always and everywhere oppose the Lib Dems, the number of Labour supporters who will occasionally consider crossing over will only decline. In many of the Lib Dems’ weaker constituencies, where their only hope for victory is that someday an unpopular Tory MP will face a divided Labour Party, that decline by itself may be enough to trigger the collapse of the LDP’s local organisation.

  5. Rob says:

    I attended my CLP’s AGM last week and found it packed with unfamiliar faces.  We’ve seldom (if ever?) experienced a time when the growth in membership is so clearly inversely proportional to Labour’s showing in opinion polls.

    Unless JC & Co wake up to reality then the Party will be reduced to a noisy irrelevance in the CLP’s and politically irrelevant outside – leaving Britain poised to swing dangerously to the right.



  6. Brian says:

    Brian writes:

    In reply to Acilius:  I’m frankly baffled by your suggestion that the “extinction” of the LibDems would somehow be “to the advantage of Labour”, despite having read and re-read your comment a number of times.  It seems to me too obvious to need repeating that the overriding objective must be to replace the present incompetent and reactionary Tory government by a progressive, humane and small-L liberal one; that Labour under its present leader can’t win an election on its own; that the only hope of a progressive government lies in a loose alliance of the centre-left parties committed to the policies and values that they all have in common, probably led by Labour; and that the LibDems must be an essential ingredient in such an alliance.  It follows inexorably from this that Labour should already be talking informally to all the other centre-left parties, including the LibDems (and the SNP), about identifying common ground and agreed tactics for jointly defeating the Tories at the next general election, which could be very soon.  On almost any reckoning, the LibDems are among Labour’s natural allies, not an enemy, and should be wooed, not extinguished.

    However, whether Jeremy Corbyn and the ideologues and purists surrounding him are the people to lead the way in forming the essential progressive alliance, with all the ideological compromises it would entail, must be open to question. We need some energetic, open-minded pragmatists to lead the Labour party at this juncture, and that’s the last thing we seem to have.

    In reply to Rob:  It is indeed a very strange phenomenon. Labour and Mr Corbyn are at rock bottom in the opinion polls yet the party has recruited record numbers of new members, many of them young and enthusiastic, although apparently more about Mr Corbyn than about the policies and values of the Labour party.  How this paradox would play out in a general election, nobody really knows.  But the partial successes of the anti-establishment elements of the populations in the Brexit, Trump and now Italian votes should make us wary of making predictions.  (I say ‘partial’ because the UK Brexiteers won by only 4 percentage points with a poor turnout on the part of many Remainers; Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million; and the Italian referendum vote was won by those opposing change and reform, not those demanding them.  Where do Labour and Corbyn fit into this electoral turmoil?)

  7. Acilius says:

    There was a time when the LDP did not exist. Sooner or later, another such time will come. That the Lib Dems won only eight seats at the last General Election, and several of those by a whisker, suggests that it may go out of business, not in some distant future, but perhaps in the very near term. If it does, most of its voters, activists, and financial backers will look for a new home in Labour.

  8. Rob says:

    How many times have the LibDems been written off only to bounce back? Party allegiance is yesterday’s news. UKIP’s the most likely fly in Labour’s ointment.