Lib-Lab pact

The Lib-Lab pact has been a working arrangement between the UK's political parties of the Liberals (later Liberal Democrats) and the Labour Party.

There have been four such arrangements, and one alleged proposal, at the national level. In many local councils there are similar arrangements, although there are also arrangements where these parties oppose each other and instead form a local alliance with another party or with independent councillors.

19th century

Before the Labour Party had been formed, various candidates stood for Parliament with backing of the Liberal Party and the Labour Representation League, including Thomas Burt, Harry Broadhurst and Alexander Macdonald. These MPs were referred to as 'Lib-Lab', although there was not a formal 'pact'.

This agreement eventually fell apart with the formation of the Independent Labour Party and the Labour Representation Committee.

20th century


In 1903 an agreement was made between Herbert Gladstone (then Chief Whip of the Liberal Party) and Ramsay MacDonald (Secretary of the Labour Representation Committee) that, in around fifty constituencies, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would not stand against each other, and thus risk splitting their vote. As a result of this agreement, in contests against the Conservative party, 29 Labour MPs were returned at the general election of 1906.


In the 1923 general election, both parties campaigned on the issue of free trade. The Conservatives, who had campaigned to introduce protective tariffs, lost their parliamentary majority but remained the largest party. The Liberals agreed to enable the formation of the first Labour government in 1924 under Ramsay MacDonald.


In the 1929 general election, Labour won the greatest number of seats, though not a parliamentary majority. The now much weakened Liberals allowed the formation of the second Labour government by not allying with the Conservatives to defeat the new government.


In March 1977 after James Callaghan's Government went into minority government, he and David Steel negotiated an agreement that they would work together, within limitations. This maintained Callaghan's position as Prime Minister and Labour in power. It lasted until the following year.

Proposed coalition of 1997

In the lead up to the 1997 general election, a coalition government was discussed by Tony Blair and the Lib Dems, according to Paddy Ashdown's The Ashdown Diaries. Ashdown, a strong proponent of a Lib-Lab coalition, said that from Blair's point of view, in order to get the Conservatives out of power and because he wanted to move his party towards the New Labour ideal, a coalition would strengthen his majority in the likely event of a victory. To get the Liberal Democrats into his Cabinet, he allegedly agreed on their terms of electoral reform. Tony Blair was still considering attempting to form a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats on the day of the general election, until the full scale of his Labour Party's majority became clear. It is alleged that Blair still harboured thoughts of getting the Lib Dems into Cabinet, but that John Prescott's resignation threat stemmed this.

"Two against one" strategy of 2001

In August 2006 it was revealed that Labour and the Liberal Democrats had engaged in a secret "two against one" strategy to keep the Conservative Party from being elected in the June 2001 general election. More information

National Assembly for Wales

When the first elections to the new Welsh Assembly took place in 1999 no one party had an absolute majority, and initially Labour sought to run a minority administration. Following a series of close votes and much criticism of the weakness of the Assembly administration, Labour and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition in October 2000 with the two parties sharing power, including ministerial appointments, with Labour the majority party. The agreement ended at the elections of 2003 when Labour gained a one seat majority.

Scottish Parliament

In 1999, after the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in July of that year, the Lib Dems signed up to what was termed a "partnership government" with Labour with both parties providing ministers in a shared government. Although standing on separate manifestos in the succeeding election of 2003 the joint working continued, with Labour's Rt Hon Jack McConnell MSP as First Minister, and the LibDems' Jim Wallace QC MSP as Deputy First Minister (and Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning) who has now been succeeded by Nicol Stephen of the same party as Deputy First Minister. The 2007 election saw the Scottish National Party surpass Labour as the largest party by one seat. The Scottish Liberal Democrats decided against coalition with either the SNP or Labour, and abstained in the vote for First Minister, eventually won by Alex Salmond.

Constitutional Committee

Whilst not a pact, ahead of the 1997 election Labour Leader Tony Blair and Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown set up the Labour-Liberal Democrat joint committee on constitutional reform to discuss devolution in Wales and Scotland, and led to Prime Minister Tony Blair setting up a joint Lib-Lab cabinet committee. In part this led to the Scottish and Welsh alliances noted above. The committee was disbanded by Tony Blair and Charles Kennedy in September 2001.


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