Friday, 10 April 2009

Getting All Hung Up...

It's been fascinating to watch the Conservative activists who now dominate debate the Liberal Democrat strategy in the event of a Hung Parliament. It's fascinating because of the drivel, the misconceptions and the plain gross ignorance that abounds but then I suppose that's what they think about me discussing or just plain dissing the Tories...

Anyway, I've discussed a Hung Parliament on here before but just to be helpful to my Conservative friends (and foes):

IF the Conservatives are the largest party in the next Parliament, they will form a minority administration. The Liberal Democrats will NOT, despite what the Tories say publically, do any kind of deal with Labour. Given that a defeated Labour Party is unlikely to want to trigger a second election by voting down the Conservative minority Government, David Cameron is safe.

The other point to bear in mind is that it's all about bums on benches. IF the Conservatives get more votes than Labour but get fewer seats, that means nothing under the British system of FPTP. When the Liberal Democrats got 18% of the vote and only 3% of seats, the Tories were wholly unsupportive so who is going to support them if they get 40% of the votes but remain out of power ? IF the Conservatives want proportionality, they can vote for a system like STV that offers a far greater prospect of it than FPTP but we all know the Tories are happy with say 42% of the votes, 60% of the seats and 100% of the power...

So, let's assume Labour is the largest party in the next Parliament, what happens then ?

There are two scenarios which we need to consider:

Option 1 - Conservatives + other parties (excluding Lib Dems) > Labour

In this, the Conservatives, in combination with the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists and the DUP have enough voters to defeat Labour without needing the Liberal Democrats. The question is whether the Liberal Democrats would support Labour, vote against or abstain.

My view is the Liberal Democrats should support the Conservatives. It would be political suicide to vote to prop up Gordon Brown while to abstain would invite charges of vaciliation and indecision. IF there is a clear majority against Labour, then it would be foolish not to be part of that majority.

Option 2 - Conservatives + other parties (excluding Lib Dems) < Labour

This is the other scenario - where the Conservatives need Liberal Democrat votes to have enough support to defeat Labour.

This is arguably the most difficult option facing the new Parliamentary Party and I don't have an easy answer. MY gut feeling is that given the numbers in this scenario, it would be much harder to argue that there was a clear mandate for change.

Whether a second election would resolve the issue I don't know but clearly the Conservatives would still want one despite having in effect "failed".

We are therefore left with some awkward questions for all Opposition parties - I don't recall anyone asking the SNP, Plaid or the DUP whether they would support a Conservative motion of "No Confidence". It could well be that even with Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together, the numbers would not be enough to overturn Labour without the support of other minor parties but no one seems to want to talk about them.

Given signs of an increasing SNP-Conservative rapport in Scotland, I suspect the Scottish Nationalists will join with the Tories at Westminster but I'm much less convinced about either Plaid or the DUP and the assumption that the five Sinn Fein MPs won't get involved at all.

As always, the Tory activists miss the point - instead of just asking what the Lib Dems would do, they should be asking the DUP, SNP and Plaid what THEY would do. In this case, it may well take five or six to tango.

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