Lib Dems stand down in Bristol West as part of national ‘Unite to Remain’ electoral pact

The Liberal Democrats will not stand a candidate in Bristol West to boost the Green party’s chances of winning the seat.

The agreement is part of a national electoral pact between the Lib Dems, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru and independent MPs to try to prevent the Remain vote from splitting.

Bristol West voted to stay in the EU by 80 per cent in the referendum and was one of the Green Party’s top targets in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire increased her majority in 2017 and won 65 per cent of the vote, with the Tories squeezing the Greens into third place two years ago.

 

But now the Lib Dems and the Greens have agreed that James Cox, the Lib Dem candidate, will stand down and urge Lib Dem supporters to vote Green instead on December 12.

The Green Party launched its national election campaign in Bristol earlier this week, and local councillor Carla Denyer is standing as its party’s candidate in the General Election.

Announcing the national pact this morning, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said: “I am delighted that this arrangement will help elect more pro-remain MPs in the next Parliament.

lib dems stand down in bristol west as part of national unite to remain electoral pact - Lib Dems stand down in Bristol West as part of national 'Unite to Remain' electoral pact

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson (Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

“In the 43 seats agreed today, as well as hundreds more across the country, it is clear that the Liberal Democrats are the strongest party of Remain.

“A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote to stop Brexit, so that we can invest the £50bn Remain bonuses in our public services and build a brighter future.”

The alliance creates a headache for Ms Debbonaire, who had urged urged the Remain Alliance not to stand candidates against her because she supports staying in the EU.

“Any Remain Alliance will, I hope, not target a sitting Remain Parliamentary incumbent and I look forward to helping others unseat the Brexiteers in the region such as JR-M, or Jack LoP,” she tweeted this morning, referring to Brexiteers and former Tory MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg and Jack Lopresti.

“I do hope we can do this as allies, not waste energy and resources targeting Remain,” she added.

Lib Dem candidate ‘sorry’

Lib Dem candidate James Cox said he was ‘personally disappointed’ at standing aside.

“When I was selected for Bristol West, I knew we had a big task ahead,” he said.

“It was daunting stepping into the shoes of Bristol West’s first Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, but it was a challenge I was excited to take on. This election was to be a key part of our comeback. The team was ready, the literature designed and the message – Stop Brexit.

lib dems stand down in bristol west as part of national unite to remain electoral pact 1 - Lib Dems stand down in Bristol West as part of national 'Unite to Remain' electoral pact

James Cox will not now stand in Bristol West for the Lib Dems (Image: Bristol Liberal Democrat group)

“Build a Brighter Future – could not have been more Bristol West if it tried. I anticipate that we would have done very well, perhaps even surprised a few pundits on the way,” he added. “However, sometimes there are fights bigger than the ones in which we are personally invested.”

“With all negotiations, deals, and pacts, there is give and take. Sometimes that can be personally painful. I first got into politics because I wanted to change it,” he said.

“Whilst I am personally disappointed, I understand that many of our activists and members who have either spent decades and thousands of hours campaigning for us in Bristol West or were excited to get involved here for the first time will be hugely disappointed too. Once again, on behalf of the party, I am sorry,” he added.

Labour’s furious reaction

lib dems stand down in bristol west as part of national unite to remain electoral pact - Lib Dems stand down in Bristol West as part of national 'Unite to Remain' electoral pact

Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire at PMQs on 15 May 2019 (Image: Parliament TV)

Bristol city councillor Mike Davies, who is standing as a Labour candidate in Bath, said the decision was ‘utterly stupid and vindictive’.

“Thangam is a Remain MP,” he tweeted. “Voted against A50 and all Tory Brexit deals. Worked hard as a Whip to help win votes for the Remain side in Parliament over the last 3 years. Labour policy is to have a 2nd referendum – the same as the Green Party! This is utterly stupid and vindictive.”

Earlier this morning, Labour’s Bristol West MP since 2015, Thangam Debbonaire, tweeted a long thread of tweets of her position on Brexit, saying she has consistently voted to keep Britain in the EU, and urged the ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance not to target her seat – a plea that fell on deaf ears two hours later, this morning.

What the Greens said

Co-Leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said: “This is about recognising how damaging Brexit would be – for people and for the environment – and ensuring there is as much representation of Remain parties in the next Parliament as possible.

“Our country is at a crossroads and this election must be the point at which we start to move in a better direction. Everyone knows the Greens are the least tribal of any party and we are always willing to work with others for what’s in the best interests of the country.”

 

Agreements have been reached through discussion with local parties, the Green said.

Sian Berry, Green Party Co-Leader said: “The crash-out Brexit the Tories are pushing for would be a disaster for people up and down England and Wales – and for action on climate chaos.

“Yes, as political parties we have differences, but what we’ve agreed is that on the climate, on stopping Brexit, saving local services and fixing the voting system, we must work together now so we can work together in the new parliament to make these things happen.”

lib dems stand down in bristol west as part of national unite to remain electoral pact 2 - Lib Dems stand down in Bristol West as part of national 'Unite to Remain' electoral pact

Green Party Co-Leader Sian Berry (left), Deputy Leader and Parliamentary Candidate for Newport West Amelia Womack (right), and Bristol West Candidate Carla Denyer (centre) at the launch of the party’s general election manifesto in Bristol. (Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)

The Green Party said it supports a People’s Vote to decide the future of Britain in the EU and will campaign to Remain.

Green Party candidate Carla Denyer tweeted that she was now ‘the Unite to Remain candidate’ in Bristol West.

“I am delighted to be selected as the Unite to Remain candidiate in Bristol West.

“This is about putting aside our differences in a few seats to reduce the chances of a crash out Brexit on either a Labour or Tory deal. Now the choice for Remain voters in Bristol West is easy,” she added.

Other local seats included

As part of the ‘Unite to Remain’ alliance, other seats around the West of England are also included.

As well as the Lib Dems standing down its candidate in Bristol West to support the Greens, the Green Party in turn are standing aside in Bath, where there is a sitting Lib Dem MP, and are also standing aside in Thornbury and Yate, where the Lib Dems are attempting to win back the seat from the Conservatives.

The numbers

Bristol West as a constituency voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU in the 2016 Referendum.

Leave

20.71%

Remain

79.29%

And some wards in Bristol West were among the highest percentage of Remain voters in Britain.

In General Elections, the seat has been a changeable, four-way marginal between the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Labour and the Conservatives.

It was held by Conservative minister William Waldegrave in the 1980s, but won by Valerie Davey for Labour as part of the 1997 Tony Blair-led landslide.

 

It was won by the Liberal Democrats in 2005, with Stephen Williams extending his majority in 2010 and becoming a minister in the Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2010.

In 2015, it was won for Labour by Thangam Debbonaire, with Mr Williams beaten into third place by Green Party candidate Darren Hall. That 2015 result put it as the Green Party’s second most winnable seat in 2017, and the Greens targeted Bristol West relentlessly in 2017.

Thangham Debbonaire makes her victory speech in Bristol West

Thangham Debbonaire makes her victory speech in Bristol West

But in 2017, Ms Debbonaire won with a landslide.

She more than doubled the number of votes for her – from 22,900 in 2015 to 47,213 in 2017.

She took a 65.9 per cent of the vote, with the Lib Dem vote and the Green vote collapsing by more than half. The Conservatives gained just 100 more votes, but jumped from fourth to second, and Ms Debbonaire’s majority of 37,336 was one of Labour’s biggest in the country – it is technically one of the safest Labour seats in Britain.

2017 result

Lab – 47,213

Con – 9,877

Green – 9,216

Lib Dem – 5,201

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