Labour and the Liberal Democrats have been urged to forge an electoral pact in the upcoming Mid Bedfordshire by-election to avoid splitting the progressive vote and ‘getting another Nadine Dorries’.
Labour finished second in Mid Bedfordshire in 2019, some 24,664 votes behind the Tories, but nearly 6,000 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrats.
But raw figures can conceal complex realities, and don’t necessarily show which parties have the highest or lowest vote ceiling.
The largely rural seat of Mid Bedfordshire resembles North Shropshire, which the Lib Dems came from third to win in December 2021 after capturing disenchanted Tory voters in numbers that Labour couldn’t match.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats therefore have a claim to being the best-placed progressive challenger, meaning even if there is an anti-Conservative majority, a split in the anti-Tory vote could allow the incumbent party to cling on.
To prevent this Progressive Tragedy from happening, Compass is urging Labour and the Liberal Democrats to forge a non-aggression pact to ensure a progressive candidate has the best possible chance of winning the seat.
Labour or the Lib Dems could agree to redirect resources away from Mid Bedfordshire in an informal deal as happened in Bexley and Selby for Labour and North Shropshire, Somerton & Frome and Chesham & Amersham for the Lib Dems.
In addition, both parties need to think about how to encourage the Green Party and Green voters to vote tactically. In 2019 the party gained 2,500 votes in Mid Bedfordshire. These votes could be crucial. Labour lost the Uxbridge by-election last month by the wafer-thin margin of 495 votes – less than the 893 votes won by the Greens.
The Greens need to be brought into discussions, offered support and, most importantly, a commitment to Proportional Representation.
Neal Lawson, Director of Compass, said:
“As this year’s local elections showed, progressive voters want to back the strongest non-Tory candidate. It’s up to Labour and the Liberal Democrats to make abundantly clear in each case who that is. There will be more by-elections to come when progressive cooperation to avoid splitting the progressive vote can be reciprocated.
“The ghost of the by-election in Uxbridge should loom large over Mid Bedfordshire. There, the progressive vote outnumbered the Conservative vote, but the Tories retained the seat because support for progressive parties was divided. This must not happen in Mid Bedfordshire.
“Progressives can’t only do deals and work together when it’s easy – they must also do so when it’s hard. Progressive division is exactly what the Tories want.”
Mid Bedfordshire constituent Evelyn Forgie said:
“We just want the Tories out. We don’t care whether it’s Labour or Lib Dem, we just don’t want another Nadine Dorries, we don’t want another Tory. I don’t want Labour and the Lib Dems slagging each other off. They’ve got to work together to get rid of the Tories.”
Richard Addison, another Mid Bedfordshire constituent, added:
“What I suspect will happen is Labour and the Lib Dems will split the vote between them and the Tories will win with a reduced majority. I would be cross about the whole thing. I’m generally very concerned that the opposition parties are going to get in the way of each other at the by-election and at other elections, and that they are going to let the non-progressive Tories through, and I think that’s not to be encouraged.”