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13 November 2019

So why aren’t the Lib Dems standing down in Canterbury?

Let's stop all the fight. Here's Evening Call.

By Jonn Elledge

Well, the good news is – we have less than 24 hours still to go of whinging about who’s standing down for whom, because tomorrow at 4pm is the deadline for registering as a candidate in next month’s election. The bad news is, you can get quite a lot of whinging into 24 hours if you really, really try.

And lord knows, everyone is trying. A snapshot of the latest. Tim Walker, the journalist and remain campaigner who was standing for the Lib Dems in ultra-marginal Canterbury, has stood down to give the widely respected Remain-supporting Labour candidate Rosie Duffield a clear run. Lib Dem HQ are having none of it, however, and have nominated Claire Malcomson instead.

The Lib Dem argument here is that the party is not going to stand down unilaterally. Last week’s pact between the yellows, Greens and Plaid Cymru not to fight each other in 60 seats was dependent on two parties agreeing to stand down to give the third a clear run. So if Labour really wanted the Lib Dems to stand down in Canterbury, where it could be the difference between Labour winning and losing, then the thinking is that Labour should stand down in, say, Richmond Park, in return.

I am not entirely convinced by this argument, I must say. Despite what Jo Swinson has claimed, she is not a serious candidate to be the next prime minister. Jeremy Corbyn is – so there is a stronger argument that Labour needs to stand everywhere, however hopelessly, than for the Lib Dems to do the same.

What’s more, the Lib Dems are standing aside for independent former Tory and remain campaigner Dominic Grieve in Beaconsfield. Doing the same for Duffield might improve the party’s standing with Labour-leaning voters, and send a signal that it’s okay to vote for them elsewhere.

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That said, Swinson does seem to be focusing its efforts on appealing to Tory voters who hate both Brexit and Corbyn. (Stephen explained why this morning.) Giving Labour a free run without getting anything in return risks diluting that message – and making it easier for the Tories to argue that a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote to put Corbyn in Downing Street.

And, of course, there’s the harsh reality that, whatever the party and its supporters claim, its main goal at this election is not to prevent Brexit, but to maximise the number of Lib Dem MPs in parliament. However frustrating that may be for remainers, one can hardly blame the party for negotiating in whatever way it thinks necessary to do that.

That’s quite enough about the Lib Dems. In unrelated news of unlikely people campaigning for Tories who lost the whip because they opposed a No Deal Brexit, Tony Blair’s one time head of spin Alastair Campbell has said he’ll campaign for independent former Tory David Gauke in South West Hertfordshire. Strange days.

Still, let’s cling onto the good news. By this time tomorrow, this phase of the election will all be over. Then we can all move on to freaking out about something else.

Good day for…

Tory hypocrisy (although that, to be fair, could be every day). The party is currently campaigning against a “Corbyn/SNP alliance”, which it says will lead to two “chaotic and divisive referendums” next year.

As Sky’s Lewis Goodall points out, this essentially translates as: “Only we are allowed to indulge in having referendums, which by the way, are a bad idea and lead to nothing but chaos.”

Bad day for…

Labour optimists. In this week’s New Statesmanpolitics column, Stephen ponders why Jeremy Corbyn – for so long an advocate of internal party democracy – has become so much more active about ensuring candidates who support the leadership are selected to fight next month’s election.

His conclusion makes grim reading for those hoping to see Corbyn in Downing Street: he knows this could be his last chance to leave a mark on the Labour party. In other words, he thinks he might lose.

Quote of the day

“You took your time, Boris.”

A resident of the village of Fishlake, near Doncaster, to the Prime Minister who finally paid them a visit, five days into the flooding which has forced hundreds of local people out of their homes. Another local told him: “I’m not very happy about talking to you so, if you don’t mind, I’ll just mope on with what I’m doing.” Full report from the Guardian’s Josh Halliday here.

Everybody’s talking about…

Whether workers at McDonalds are worth £15 per hour, after staff at the fast food chain went on strike yesterday to demand a pay rise. This has led to lots of comments along the lines of “I don’t earn £15 per hour” or “Social care workers are paid much less than that” – both of which are fine and valid points but make me think that, firstly, a lot of people could do with a pay rise; and secondly, we’ve sort of forgotten how to do solidarity in this country.

Actually, I sometimes feel as if we’ve forgotten how to do pay rises, too, come to that. They only ever seem to be discussed in terms of the costs to employers and customers, rather than the benefits in terms of living standards, driving productivity improvements, or forcing rival firms to pay more too… but that’s probably a longer debate than there’s room for here.

Everybody should be talking about…

Floods again – though this time, not the ones affecting South Yorkshire. Some 85 per cent Venice is currently underwater, following the worst flooding in half a century. Last night, the waters rose more than six feet, spilling into St Mark’s Basilica for only the sixth time in 1,200 years. As Gizmodo’s Brian Kahn unnervingly notes: “The floods are a snapshot climate change and the fact that humanity is nowhere near ready for its impacts.”


I lead yesterday’s newsletter with two polls which seemed to show Labour closing the gap. They did – but I meant, and failed, to note that the two pollsters in question, ComRes and Survation, had always been relatively good ones for Labour’s prospects. I can only apologise for the oversight and promise I shall self-flagellate later.

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