Labour was last night accused of stitching up Boris Johnson by forging a secret pact with the Liberal Democrats to sway this week’s local election results.
Tory chairman Oliver Dowden claimed Sir Keir Starmer was standing down candidates ‘in swathes of the country’ where Lib Dem support is strong to avoid splitting the anti-Tory vote. And he alleges Sir Ed Davey’s party has returned the favour where Labour is dominant elsewhere.
In a letter to the Labour leader, which has been seen by The Mail on Sunday, Mr Dowden claimed that Sir Keir planned to ‘deny the voters a proper democratic choice’ on Thursday.
His comments sparked a political storm, with both Opposition parties denying his accusations. If the alleged tactics are replicated at a General Election, it could see a return to the days of the Lib-Lab pacts of the 1970s.
Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden (pictured) has said that Labour and the Liberal Democrats are denying voters ‘a proper democratic choice’ in local elections by standing down in areas to improve their chances of beating the Tories
A Labour spokesperson denied any pacts or deals between Sir Kier Starmer (left) and Sir Ed Davey (right)
Tory strategists fear a drubbing in this week’s polls, which come in the wake of months of damaging ‘Partygate’ headlines over alleged lockdown breaches at No 10.
Many of Mr Johnson’s enemies in the party have said that they are waiting until after the elections – and the conclusion of the Partygate investigations – before deciding whether to push for a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson is also reeling from the fall-out from yesterday’s resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish, who admitted he watched pornography twice in Parliament.
Mr Parish, who has represented Tiverton and Honiton in Devon since 2010, said the first incident had been a ‘moment of madness’ after stumbling on the X-rated images by accident while searching for tractors online but landing on ‘another website that had a very similar name’.
Mr Parish, who was suspended by the Conservative Party on Friday over the allegations, had been under pressure to resign from senior party figures who feared that the case would further damage Tory chances in the elections.
Neil Parish has resigned from his position as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after he admitted watching porn in the House of Commons
Mr Parish’s resignation will trigger a by-election in his Devon constituency, which the Conservatives won with a 24,239 majority over Labour at the last election.
A survey by former Tory deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, published in today’s Mail on Sunday, has found that when voters are asked to choose between a Conservative Government headed by Mr Johnson and a Labour Government headed by Sir Keir, the Labour leader is backed by 57 per cent to Mr Johnson’s 43 per cent.
However, the research also concludes that Mr Johnson’s political future could be ensured by the absence of an obvious Tory successor and Sir Keir’s failure to make sufficient impact.
Tory losses in Thursday’s local elections would be compounded if Labour has indeed formed a secret ‘Rainbow Alliance’ with the Liberal Democrats to maximise their local advantages.
In his letter to Sir Keir, Mr Dowden said: ‘I note that in the South West, you are standing candidates in 61 per cent of seats compared to 97 per cent in 2018. And in the South East there is a similar pattern with Labour standing candidates in 88 per cent of seats compared to 99 per cent in 2018.
‘In the North of England it appears that the Liberal Democrats are returning the favour. In the North East they are standing in just 56 per cent of seats, down from 78 per cent four years ago. Labour are, however, standing in 99 per cent of seats in the area. These shifts are far too substantial to be a mere coincidence… It now appears that your plans to deny the voters a proper democratic choice are coming to fruition.’
Mr Dowden asks Sir Keir to explain ‘when Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreed to this pact’, whether ‘party members and MPs in the affected regions [were] consulted about the pact’ and finally: ‘Why have you attempted to conceal this from the voters?’
Mr Dowden stepped in after campaigners in the North East reported that ‘Labour are pushing hard up here, but the Lib Dems are nowhere’, while in the South West ‘Labour have completely vanished’. An official said: ‘It was pretty obvious what was going on – Labour and the Lib Dems had done some sort of deal’.
Last night, a Labour spokesperson said: ‘We are in the business of winning elections with Labour candidates driven by Labour values.’ A party source added: ‘There will be no deals and no pacts. Labour only wins power when we squeeze other progressive parties and win over Tories.’
A Liberal Democrat source said: ‘From porn to Partygate, the Tories have had a disastrous local elections campaign, so it’s no surprise they’ve resorted to making things up. The Lib Dems are one seat away from taking Labour-controlled Hull and are fighting a full slate in places like Newcastle, Gateshead and Manchester.
‘This is a concocted story by a party that is desperate to distract from their terrible record on the cost of living, crime and local health services.’