Inside story of 1997 Labour–Lib Dem deal – and how Starmer and Davey can do it better

Labour and the Lib Dems can beat the Conservatives if they heed the lessons of the 1997 election victory and work together more closely, says a new report from Compass.

In 1997: Then and Now, Duncan Brack says that the parties must offer a positive alternative as in ‘97 – not just the negative motive of getting rid of the Conservatives.

Launching the report, Director of Compass Neal Lawson said:

‘We’ve seen hugely encouraging signs that Keir Starmer and Ed Davey are starting to get the need to cooperate. They can share some power and get most of what they want – or stay divided and get nothing.

‘This report shows we’ve done it before – and we can do it again, better.’

The local elections showed that there is an anti-Conservative majority in the UK, but not a Labour majority.

1997: Then and Now reveals:

  • Non-Conservative parties combined only need to win 40 seats to deny the Conservatives a majority
  • Labour and the Lib Dems are only in competition in a tiny handful of seats
  • Tactical voting in 1997 saw Labour gain 15–21 seats and the Lib Dems 10–14.

In the report, Lib Dem insider Duncan Brack, the party’s Policy Director from 1988–94 and special adviser during the coalition government in 2010–12, goes behind the scenes of the 1997 negotiations and unearths the lessons for how the parties win next time:

  • Tony Blair and Paddy Ashdown coordinated attacks on the government at PMQs
  • Before 1997 Blair suggested fielding common Labour–Lib Dem candidates
  • The Lib Dems ran tutorials for Blair on proportional representation (PR)
  • In 1997 Labour’s reluctance on PR sank a Lib–Lab common platform – it’s essential Labour now commits to electoral reform.

Ed Davey has announced the Lib Dems will focus resources on the Honition and Tiverton by-election and leave Wakefield to Labour.

Tactical campaigning and voting has already helped the Lib Dems to stunning by-election victories in Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire.

The Lib Dems are second in 80 Conservative seats where Labour has little chance of winning.

Launching the report, Director of Compass Neal Lawson said:

‘We’ve seen hugely encouraging signs that Keir Starmer and Ed Davey are starting to get the need to cooperate. They can share some power and get most of what they want – or stay divided and get nothing. 

‘Locally, their members are already working together. It’s time for the party leaders to face the music and start cooperating openly. They will be accused of it anyway by the Tories. 

‘In 1997 I was at the meeting where the Lib Dems gave Peter Mandelson their list of target seats – which the Mirror then splashed across a double-page spread, encouraging Labour supporters to vote tactically.

‘This time the electoral mountain is bigger, and the electoral demographics much more complicated.  We need 1997-plus, and we’re getting 1997-minus.

‘This report shows we’ve done it before – and we can do it again, better.’

Download the report here.


For media enquiries, contact Gabriel Everington on 07565802875 or gabriel@compassonline.org.uk.

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