NEW POLL: Should the Lib Dems back the seat winners or the vote winners?

Yes, I know, it’s a Hung Parliament question, and all Lib Dems hate those – after all, we’re a political party in our own right, not just an addendum to one of the other two consevative, reactionary, estabishment parties that trade under the names Labour and Tories.

But still, there’s a chance, a slim chance, that the next general election will see no one party emerge with an overall majority. In which case, the Lib Dems will be under scrutiny like never before, our every move examined under a microscope. So it’s as well to be prepared. And this question – posed yesterday at PoliticalBetting.com – gets to the heart of our dilemma, for, as Mike Smithson points out, it’s conceivable that Labour might emerge as the party with most MPs with just 33% of the popular vote, compared with 39% for the Tories:

The line that has come out of the Lib Dems is that they “wouldn’t oppose” the party with the most seats being able to form a minority government. By that they mean that they would abstain on the Queen’s Speech and not vote against. But what that be right in this situation? (sic)

I like posing this to Lib Dems because it goes to the heart of their demands for fair votes. Would they keep in power the party that had lost so much and was so far behind?

So, let’s turn the question over to LDV readers, and ask you: In the event of a Hung Parliament, should the Lib Dems allow the seat winners or the popular vote winners to form a government?

Your options, self-explanatorily enough, are:

The winner of the popular vote;
The winner of the most seats;
Neither: we should oppose whatever the circumstances;
Don’t know / Other

Let the debate commence…

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31 Comments

  • Bruce Wilson 28th Mar '09 - 12:24pm

    It is a matter of indifference to me, as long as any support was conditional on future elections being on propotional representation terms.

  • Cheltenham Robin 28th Mar '09 - 12:32pm

    Depends really – If the Tories are the vote winners then we should back the seat winners but if the Tories are the seat winners then we should back the vote winners.

    That seems a fair way of deciding to me.

  • Chris Stanbra 28th Mar '09 - 12:37pm

    We should wait and see what the result is and then see if anyone approaches us. The we have a decision to make. In the meantime its all just a distraction from the important stuff – winning elections.

  • Wait and see what they each offer quid pro quo.

  • @ Chris

    it’s all very well to take that approach, but that misses out the fact that we’ll need a clear position that neutralizes Labour/Tory attacks on us over this issue. to my mind, saying “we’ll see” doesn’t show a great faith in one’s principles. wouldn’t it be better to just state what we think the criterion should be, and have it over and done with.

    it seems best to say, in view of our distaste for FPTP, that the party with the most votes is the more legitimate, but also to make any formal coalition totally contingent on introducing PR through STV in multiple-member constituencies. outside of receiving that agreement, we should abstain on the Queen’s Speech and take things issue by issue.

  • To be quite honest, while a hung Parliament is reasonably likely, it’s far less likely that there will be a hung Parliament in which the other parties are evenly enough balanced that the Lib Dems could give a majority to either.

    The choice is not likely to be which to support, but what degree of support to give to the party with more seats – whichever that turns out to be.

  • Paul Griffiths 28th Mar '09 - 2:41pm

    The idea that the Liberal Democrats should insist on PR as the price of maintaining a minority administration is one that needs to be challenged.

    PR would be a major constitutional change. Without a majority of our own, would have no mandate to insist on its introduction without public consent. The best we could hope for, and the most we would be justified in asking for, is some form of Constitutional Convention.

  • Richard Whelan 28th Mar '09 - 2:44pm

    This is a silly question because until we know the final make-up of the next House of Commons, who the largest party is and how much they have fallen short of an overall majority, who the second largest party is and how far behind they are from the first party, and finally who the third party is and how many seats they have relative to the first and second parties, we cannot answer any of these questions.

    As far as shares of the vote are concerned this is a more interesting question because as you have said it is quite plausible that the party with the largest share of the vote may not get the largest number of seats. In this situation we would, I guess, have to look at the return of votes per MP worked out as the total number of votes for each party across the country divided by the total number of seats that each party gained. In doing so you would be able to see the concentration of each party’s vote and thus negotiate with the party whose vote is most concentrated across the country.

    Other factors are as important. The common ground between ourselves and the other parties as highlighted by each party’s manifesto and differential turnout. The more people vote at the next election the stronger the bargaining position of each party.

    It is only when these facts are known after all votes have been counted and all seats have been declared that we will be able to tackle these questions head on.

  • Neil Bradbury 28th Mar '09 - 3:55pm

    as a councillor involved in the running of a (very successfull) minority administration, I would say that its pointless to anticipate scenarios – the one you don’t anticipate will happen. The key thing is you have to trust your leadership team to make the right call and then back them 100%. Disunity and division in negitiations means you will not get anything.

    We should work with any party that shares a substantial part of our vision for a Liberal Britain. Otherwise we should try to be a constructive opposition. The key thing is that people in Britain want a more consensual spirit of government. We will betray them if we just behave like a JCR debating team.

  • Liberal Neil 28th Mar '09 - 4:44pm

    My instinct is that we should not oppose the largest party forming a Government but that we should vote on each issue on its merits.

    That then allows us the freedom to balance the importance of different issues to us and negotiate on that basis.

    I’m not convinced there is a lot to be gained by spending time thinking through every possible permutation.

  • Needn’t get hung up on who gets the largest number of votes. Under fptp that figure is meaningless (that being the whole problem), so it would hardly be counter to lib dem principles to go against it.

  • Laurence Boyce 28th Mar '09 - 5:36pm

    The figures will be irrelevant. The present system is not of our choosing, so we would simply have to discern the right way forward under the circumstances, ignoring charges of hypocrisy.

    The share of the vote is in any case distorted by tactical voting (which we encourage) so cannot be used as a reliable indicator of anything.

    But making STV a deal-breaker will not get us anywhere at all. As ever, I remain perplexed by this attitude.

  • Martin Land 28th Mar '09 - 5:44pm

    Of course (luckily?) none of the people writing here will never have to make the decision…

  • David Heigham 28th Mar '09 - 8:01pm

    It don’t matter a purple panda. We are in politics to get LibDem principles and policies into effect in the government of Britain. So we use whatever influence and bargaining power we may have to get as much as possible of what we are in politics for. That means being prepared to negotiate with whoever is able and willing to help get the results for Britain that we want.

    The differences between Cameronian Tories and New Labour on policies are vestigial. Their common differences from the LibDems are large and obvious.

    Tribal tradition is all that now separates New Tory from New Labour. In both those parties, there are minorities who are reasonably close to us in outlook. Those people we need to get closer to us if we are serious about wanting to make a major difference. Of course, if there were a Con/Lab coalition, where would they naturally look?

  • We would be insane to back anybody. The next election is a year away, give or take a few months. Realistically, the economic mess we are in will be as acute, if not worse, than it is now. If Labour comes out of the election as the largest party it will be a miracle given the depth of disillusion with the government that exists today, but it would be their continuing responsibility to get us out of this situation which, if Vince Cable had been listened to by the government over recent years, we would not be in. If the Tories emerge as the largest party then they are unlikely to seek support from a party whose economic policies have little in common with theirs, and as their ideas for solving the economic crisis are rubbish anyway we shouldn’t contemplate having anything to do with them, even if they were to offer us STV and Site Value Rating (which they wouldn’t). It is a situation rather like that of 1974 when one useless and incompetent government (Tory) was replaced with another (Labour), the difference being that the Liberal Party of the day didn’t have sufficiently coherent alternative economic policies. Today we do, and the best way of persuading the electorate that our policies are right is to maintain our distance from the parties whose policies are wrong.

  • David Evans 30th Mar '09 - 3:12pm

    The answer is simple and unaguable – we should work with anyone who would support us.

  • David Evans 30th Mar '09 - 3:39pm

    If we look up the last time there was a serious period of recession/depression associated with national government, it led to the disintegration of the Liberal party. Almost all of them found reasons not to work with a group they disliked; the party fragmented and ultimately were assimilated into the others.

    As a bunch of Liberals this is inevitable, unless we realise we are stronger working together than working for anyone else. Hence, it is those who will work with us, not those who want us to work for them.

    Hands up those who want to see Vince working for Gordon in an attempt to minimise the effect of the mess he has got us into. Equally hands up those who want to see Vince working for David in an attempt to minimise the effect of the mess he supported Gordon getting into.

    I rest my case.

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