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The Lib-Lab Pact:

Who Gains?

(October 1977)

From Militant, No. 376, 7 October 1977, p. 2.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“We have done more from outside in a few short months to reduce the influence of the left than the right wing of the Labour Party has done in a decade.”

That was how Liberal leader David Steel summed up the results of the Lib-Lab deal at the end of last week’s Liberal Conference.

Steel made no bones about which side of the class struggle he stood on as he attacked the Labour Party Conference in advance for what he called the Party’s “weak-kneed capitulation to the more intolerant demands of trade unionism – imposed closed shops and the extension of trade disputes by mass picketing.” For all the sympathetic phrases these so-called Liberals use, Steel’s two speeches at his Party’s Conference showed that when the chips were down they stand for the maintenance of so-called ‘private enterprise’ dominated by big business. The only difference between the Tories and Liberals were secondary differences, of the tactics and the career interests of their leaders.

Other Liberal leaders made clear their hatred of the labour movement. Liberal President Gruffydd Evans described the Labour Party as “nothing more than an instrument organised often along Stalinist lines.” Liberal chairman Geoffrey Tordoff spoke of the Liberals fighting the “evil, dictatorial doctrine of Trotskyism”. He went on to call for classic Tory policies like the “shifting of the balance of taxation from direct to indirect.”


Steel’s earlier speech spoke of the ‘successes’ that the Lib-Lab pact have brought. He said:

“We can and have stopped nationalisation ... We can and will oppose those cuts in defence spending which would take us below our obligations to collective security in NATO.”

In spite of this deal, Steel showed his underlying hatred of the labour movement’s aim of transforming society when he claimed that the “onward march of bureaucratic takeover and control remain the aim of Labour.”

Steel summed up the period of the Deal as the time when “the Liberal tail wagged the dog”! Thus he blurted out the truth about this deal: the Liberals will only support the government so long as it carries out capitalist policies. The labour leaders argue that as the government is in a minority it has no alternative but to drop it more radical policies and attempt to hang on until it stands a chance of winning an election, and that the Deal only formalises the situation.

This is nonsense. The central questions facing the Party are: why did we lose the majority which the Party won in October 1974, and what should the government do now?

It is the failure of the government to deliver the goods it promised in the 1974 elections which has caused the party to lose both parliamentary and council elections. If the government continues with its present policy of trying to manage the present diseased capitalist economy it will be incapable of solving the problems facing the working class and make it very difficult for Labour to win the next election.

But the Liberals will only support the Labour government as long as it continues to carry out the suicidal policy of working within the existing economic structure. If the Labour government attempted to carry out radical measures, the Liberals would immediately withdraw their support. This is precisely the Liberal leaders’ role; to act as a guard dog for big business, ensuring that the government does not make any attempt to edge towards anything that could be interpreted as socialism.


The policies which the Labour government has to carry out to retain Liberal support are the direct opposite of those on which it was elected. The way to ensure the survival of the government is not for the Labour leaders to mortgage themselves to the Liberals, but to adopt socialist policies capable of winning the mass support necessary which alone can sustain a Labour government in office.

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Last updated: 21 August 2016