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The Littlewood Plan: An interesting piece of kite flying?

October 23rd, 2012 Posted in Conservatives, Election, Liberal Democrats by


Conservative home has got hold the November issue of Standpoint magazine, (released on Thursday), which, they say, carries an article by Mark Littlewood, (formerly of this Parish) advocating a pact between free market Lib Dems and Conservatives after the next election.

The Littlewood Plan would see Conservatives stand down in a Lib Dem seat where the Lib Dem MP agrees to pursue deficit reduction and free market policies, and signs up for a new coalition. He says (presumably addressing Mr Cameron) :

“The arrangement he should seek with free market-leaning (“Orange Book”) Lib Dem MPs should be unilateral but not universal. It would essentially amount to an offer to withdraw the Conservative candidate from those seats in which an incumbent Liberal was willing publicly to take a pledge to continue the work of the coalition beyond 2015, specifically in regard to swiftly completing the process of fiscal consolidation, preferably at a rather more rapid pace than at present.”

Con Home reports that Mark Littlewood argues this arrangement would particularly suit those Lib Dems in ministerial office since they will find it harder to distinguish themselves politically from their Coalition partners, and also have less time to spend campaigning out and about in the constituency. He also suggests that such a scheme would benefit the Conservatives – allowing them to focus their firepower on target Labour seats.

This idea has clearly caught Con Home on the hop. Unsurprisingly they dismiss the suggestion (as do those commenting on the blog) in quick order. Yet they can’t quite articulate a reason why they are against the idea, beyond the fact that any Lib Dem seat in electoral peril should be seized by the Conservatives at all costs. That’s it so far. Hardly a compelling reason to dismiss out of hand. Maybe they will have a bit of a think about it and come up with a somewhat more robust set of reasons to say no.

For our  part we like this out-of-the-box thinking. This far out from an election, it is little more than a  fascinating piece of kite-flying. But there is plenty of time for variations on the Littlewood Plan to be kicked about and mulled over.

Of course what we really want to see is Ministers on both sides knuckling down to the job of getting growth going with some thoughtful ideas that will actually work. But if Vince can engage in cross bench flirting with Ed Miliband, via text or behind closed doors, we should expect, nay demand, a little flirting within the coalition too, surely?

4 Responses to “The Littlewood Plan: An interesting piece of kite flying?”

  1. Tom Papworth Says:

    “Con Home … can’t quite articulate a reason why they are against the idea”

    Really? I am genuinely surprised.

    I’ve come up with eight reasons why it wouldn’t work in the time it took me to write this response as a sort of stream-of-consciousness!

    1) History. The National Liberals’ willingness to support the Conservatives at all costs led to an eventual merger and helped kill off the Liberal Party as an electoral force. Nobody wants to (or to be seen to) repeat this error.

    2) Perception. The Lib Dems must continue to demonstrate that coalition politics is not about two parties forming an axis to prevent a third gaining power (insert wry comments about what Labour and the Tories have been doing since the 1940s here). The no-deals-before-the-election, negotiate-first-with-strongest-party formula is both principled and pluralist. A pact with the Tories begs the question “Why not just vote Tory”.

    Of course, in the constituency of the Lib Dem MP doing the deal this won’t be an option. But it will crucify the Lib Dems in three-way seats.

    3) Fracture: If there are Deal and No Deal MPs, the party is effectively split. And eventually it WILL split if this strategy is taken. In the Westminster system, a split Lib Dems are a spent force. We will hand Labour and the Tories an 1950s settlement and end multi-polar politics for another generation (or two).

    —And now for the Tories—

    4) Conservative Associations just won’t wear it. Why would the decline to put up a candidate? To give an example, what’s in it for Countyville Conservatives, just 4,000 votes short of winning last time and expecting a good chunk of former tactical-Lib Dems to revert to Labour. Why give up on their ambition to unseat the Lib Dem MP just because he decides to sign up to the deal? They have nothing to gain.

    5) Nor, for that matter, do the Tories nationally. Why have a secure coalition when they can have a majority?

    This proposal might work in the short term for Lib Dem MPs who are facing Labour and need to tactically look to 3rd-placed Tory voters. But many of our seats are Conservative rather than Labour facing.

    6) UKIP. There is no reason to believe that the Lib Dems will benefit from a lack of a Tory candidate. A lot of Tory voters will just vote UKIP. Replacing the blue candidate with the purple one won’t change anything.

    7) UKIP. The Tories dare not do anything that risks a UKIP victory. A single UKIP MP messes with the electoral dynamics and gives UKIP a platform like no other. The Tories risk too much in the long term

    8) Even if the Tories don’t run a candidate, there’s always that Independent who was the Tory Party’s candidate in 2005 and 2010, and who seems to have been able to raise £50,000 and gather 40 helpers at no notice, and who bangs on in his literature about immigration and family values. If Peter Law can win in Blaenau Gwent in 2005 (with the rival Labour/ex-Labour candidates taking 90% of the vote), a shadow-Tory could easily win, or at least do as much damage as a titular one.

    I’m sure others will be able to come up with other, perhaps less-psephological, reasons, but I think the above are enough to be getting on with.

  2. Richard Manns Says:

    It seems odd to use history to support the argument that Liberals wouldn’t defect to the Tories again, because that’s precisely what they did time and time again:

    1) to form the Tories from the Peelite Liberals,
    2) to merge the Liberal Unionists with the Tories,
    3) to take many Liberals during the inter-war Liberal collapse and
    4) to absorb the remnants of the National Liberals.

    With a bleak scenario of Cable replacing Clegg but the polls hovering at 10-15%, history tells us that many Liberals found it more effective to take Liberal policies (e.g. free trade) with them to other parties, than let themselves, their careers and Liberal causes sink with the party.

  3. Orange book liberal Says:

    @Tom Papworth
    You might be right – although I would see that the split in the Lib Dems is already there.

    Personally anything that shows Lord Oakeshot that he is not in charge of the party makes me happy. He did not give a toss about the party when he started creating mischief about Nick Clegg leadership just before the party conference season. I would not be at all surprised to find that Oakeshot (and notable leading MPs) are already having cosy chats in private clubs about what deals can be done with Miliband and co.

    So why not have a more open discussion involving the voters AHEAD of the election? I would be very happy for an agreement pre election between orange book liberals and the Torys. It’s honest, up front – cant say you dont know what you are going to get – and as the coalition keeps saying – the job wont be done in this parliamentary term – so why not agree to continue the work post election ?

    I get that some grassroots Torys might not like it – but they would probably rather cut off their noses rather than share power. I am guessing that some sensible Tory strategists sitting down with calculators in a few months time looking at the predictions may well be thinking this is not such a bad idea. If there is a possibility of another hung parliament best to start thinking about this stuff now rather than running around like headless chickens post election like we saw last year.

  4. Paul McKeown Says:

    I can think of nothing more detrimental to the Liberal Democrats than the idea gaining currency that they were not a fully independent party fighting on one policy platform with one leader and consent from all its candidates to submit to the one whip.

    This is a rubbish idea. Mark Littlewood should stop pretending, he’s not a Lib Dem outlier, just a closet Tory, possibly a Kipper, who just hasn’t admitted it to himself.