Opinion: They’re bidding for Lib Dem support!

Let’s get the most we can – especially on voting reform!

The Tories say, quite rightly, that Labour (about 29% of the votes) and Lib Dems (about 23%) lost the election but then they go on to claim they won with only about 36% (just over one in three)!

The fact is that the public decided collectively that it did not trust any one party to govern.

In terms of votes any two of the three main parties has a moral right to govern by coalition. It is nonsense to say that a Labour/Lib Dem coalition has no right to form a government when, together, they won about 52% of the votes against the Tories’ 36%.

But the voting system has denied Labour and Lib Dems an overall majority in the House despite their majority in the country. For that, they would also need support from minor parties. SDLP and Alliance might support such a coalition through their natural allies in the Labour Party and Lib Dems respectively but even that would not be enough. SNP and Plaid Cymru support would also be needed.

This would not be easy but it may be possible. The Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru are all centre left parties and they all support STV1 in multi-member constituencies while Labour supports holding a referendum to introduce AV2 which, in effect, is STV in single member constituenceies.

Mathematically, a Tory/Lib Dem coalition would have a stronger moral claim to govern and offers much better prospects of stable government. Together, they represent about 59% of the voters and would have an overall majority in the House.

One major obstacle to such a coalition could be the Tories opposition to electoral reform but David Cameron is said to prefer STV (which is Lib Dem policy) to any other proportional system, whereas Labour reformers usually prefer either the non-proportional AV system or a list kind of proportional representation, which would give even more power to the parties than the present first past the post.

Despite the many policy differences between the two parties, the Lib Dems and Tories have much in common on civil liberties; for example their opposition to ID cards and detention without trial. If the party leaders really want to work out something for the good of the country, I am sure they can do so.

* A former Liberal activist, Anthony Tuffin has been independent of party politics since 1988 to devote his political energy to electoral reform. He is now: Hon. Treasurer of the Electoral Reform Society, Editor of STV Action, Chairman of Make Votes Count In West Sussex, Publisher of “STV News” – but he has written this article in a personal capacity.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Stuart Hutchinson 8th May '10 - 11:59am

    I have voted LibDem in all local and general elections for the the last twenty years –
    but will NEVER DO SO AGAIN if any pact is formed with the Tories.
    The party should not be fooled in to believing that any apparent agreement will enhance the party profile or credibility in the long term.

  • Stuart Hutchinson 8th May '10 - 11:59am

    I have voted LibDem in all local and general elections for the last twenty years –
    but will NEVER DO SO AGAIN if any pact is formed with the Tories.
    The party should not be fooled in to believing that any apparent agreement will enhance the party profile or credibility in the long term.

  • Did my Vote Count – Did I get what I wanted?

    I am generally disenchanted with all the main parties.
    This time I voted for Liberal Democrat but I would normally vote Conservative.
    I was impressed with the Liberal leader, though admit not sure about some of policies.

    I guess I got what I wanted – a Labour party with a cut majority – a Conservative party with no outright majority and Liberals holding balance of power. – must admit thought they would get more seats, not lose some……

    But is this what I really wanted? Is this good for the Country?
    In Europe this is the norm, parties have to collaborate in Government. If the Liberals get Proportional Representation then we better get used to the so-called hung parliament.

    What I didn’t do, was vote Labour.
    What I didn’t do was vote for Gordon Brown.
    So you will guess that I am not happy if my vote props up a failing Labour Government.

    If the Liberals join forces/cooperate with Labour then surely Nick Clegg will be propping up Gordon Brown? I thought he was against this?

    The public perception?
    Liberal and Labour together still do not have majority – so if,as likely there will be another election, how will public look upon the Liberals – damaged, sullied by their cooperation? They could lose even more seats….

    Liberals and Conservatives?
    Not sure how this will work in view of policy differences, but surely only option. Cooperation is surely the key word. This would, in my view be in national interest so meets that Criteria and would not damage Liberals if and when there is further election….

    Did I get what I wanted when I voted Liberal Democrat?
    Sadly the answer is more likely to be No…
    and if Gordon Brown is still Prime Minister – definitely No

    I voted Liberal, I voted for change….. but did I get what I wanted?


  • Stuart – I loathe the Tories, always have and always will. I’ve been there on the pavements, at the doors in Winchester, North-East Fife and host of other places – fighting them because of all the things they did to this country, and some of the things they still stand for.

    But, above all else, the UK needs a proper Government, with a workable majority – one with the ability to drive radical changes over the next couple of years. We mustn’t end up as another Greece. Short of another election (and no guarantee that would be any more decisive..) the only option is a Lib Dem-Tory tie up.

    My gut feel is that any form of “confidence and supply” agreement, with no place in Cabinet, would end up badly. All the risk of taint by association with unpopular decisions. But no actual power, or chance to lead. No say over the timing of the next election. And crucially no chance to show the public that coalitions can work. No referendum on PR will be won until people have a positive frame of reference for coalitions. More importantly Nick, Vince could actually drive a Govt agenda on climate change, civil liberties, banks, fair tax – and get credit for it.

    No simple choices now…

  • You wrote: ‘Mathematically, a Tory/Lib Dem coalition would have a stronger moral claim to govern and offers much better prospects of stable government. Together, they represent about 59% of the voters and would have an overall majority in the House.’
    Well actually – no. A Tory/Lib Dem coalition would disenfranchise every right of centre Tory voter and every left of centre Lib Dem voter who if the coalition was a true coalition of policy and strategy would get exactly what they did not vote for and might even be their worst nightmare. And if it wasn’t a true coalition of policy and strategy – which of course it never will be – then who will it represent?
    Whereas a Lib Lab coaltion would actually represent the centre left progressive politics that both parties supposedly believe in.
    Clegg should set aside his frankly pathetic and infantile personal antipathy to Brown in the interests of his party as well as the country. He has no right to be a kingmaker. He has already abrogated the right of majesty to decide who may form a government. But he won’t. Labour will be left as a powerful, progressive effective opposition – a government in waiting – the best outcome for Labour from this election of any of the parties. And the Lib Cons will sadly disappear down the wastepipe of history having tricked millions of people into voting for them as the agents of fair and progressive change.

  • I did not say that they had more in common with Conservatives……
    If I got it right, Nick Clegg said himself , in debates, that he wasn’t going to prop up Gordon Brown if his party didn’t get the major share of votes? The Conservatives got most votes and like it or not, that is the result…..
    All I say is, that Liberal Democrats need to think very carefully before cooperating with the Labour Party…. Ask yourself this question -Did they get what they wanted when this last happened?
    Think of affects when go back to electorate……


  • JackGrrr wrote “a Lib Lab coaltion would actually represent the centre left progressive politics that both parties supposedly believe in.”

    Jack – the brutal (and really disappointing!) truth is that neither the Lib Dems or Labour won enough seats to make that a possibility. It just cant happen.

  • Terry Gilbert 8th May '10 - 12:33pm

    @philip – that’s true – there would, I feel be more ‘air war’ and less ‘ground war’ under STV.

    @stuart, colin – I share your political position but not your conclusion – do you really think a Tory Govt would be better than a Tory/LibDem one? We aren’t going to a deal unless we are offered substatial policy changes, and I for one would prefer the Tories to be fettered rather than unfettered. If they refuse a good deal, we’ll fetter them together in the House.

  • Of course Nick Clegg has to observe the proprieites and talk to the Tories first, but as Cameron seems already to have ring-fenced everything, I sincerely hope the talks fail and that a deal is done with Labour and the Nationalists. Cameron will not give way on electoral reform, and after a few years of increasingly unpopular Cameron government, the Lib Dems would go down with him and we would have another 50 years of 2 party tweedle dum governments. Electoral reform now is the only way to bring about a fundamental realignment in British politics. The Tories would hate a Lib-Lab government and the press would get even nastier, but as Steve Richards pointed out on the Today programme earlier, politics is brutal and I hope that Nick Clegg will don his hard hat and say “thanks but no thanks” to Cameron and Co.

  • More than16 million people voted against Gordon Brown and Labour this time. If, for their own self interest, the Liberal Democrats prop up a Prime Minister who has never been elected and who the British public do not want then many people would never forgive them. All this talk from the Labour Party of the ‘progressive left’ and urgent need for reform is obviously a desperate attempt to cling on to power and most people even Labour voters realise this.
    I have read on this website people saying ‘we should get the best deal’ which is true but you should also do what is right for the people of Britain and they do not want a Labour Government. Also as a party we have to decide who we trust, David Cameron, who we may disagree with but who has at least been honest about our differences or Gordon Brown who has a provable history of lying and deceit.
    We also need to be honest with ourselves. We got 22% of the vote and so we clearly do not speak for the majority of people in this country yet and we should be reasonalble in our demands for the national good and not play politics too much. Electoral reform is very important but imagine, for a second, that we get PR and then end up with 15% of the popular vote as people punish us for propping up the corrupt regime currently occupying Downing Street.
    By nature we are closer to the left, but beware of getting into bed with their very desperate and deceitful leader right now.

  • OK, here’s why we shouldn’t make an alliance with the Tories:

    1) Dave may say he’s in favour of STV, but he has been proven to say anything to anyone to get their vote and he can’t deliver on it. It is just not possible. His parliamentary party will not vote for it, even if it is agreed and signed on the dotted line. There is a huge gap between what the Conservatives will say to get into power and what they will do.
    2) The Liberal Democrats are basically a progressive party: we have spent decades fighting for values that are diametrically opposed to those of the Conservatives.
    3) We would be slaughtered in any Labour revival. At present, with Labour at its low ebb, it is not easy to see how this could happen, but watch what happened in the local elections. In my borough of Camden, the Lib Dems made an alliance with the Tories. They got wiped out by Labour who are now back in power. The potential for ‘brand contamination’ is huge.

    We might not like Labour and want to be rid of Brown as quick as possible, but we would not achieve our aims of political reform with the Conservatives in any way. They see it as entirely right that big money should be able to buy votes and that a party with just over a third of the vote should wield power over the rest. How can we compromise with a world view like that?

  • I voted Liberal Democrat for the first time in a General Election on Thursday. I did not cast that vote to elect David Cameron. I regularly vote Lib Dem at local level, but if a Con Lib Dem coalition comes into being, I will never vote Liberal Democrat again.

    I was relieved the the election results showed a defeat for the forces of Conservatism. Progressives in the Lab, Lib, SNP, PC and Green parties have a majority of 329 seats in Parliament. As one of those MPs, I ask you to supoprt the progressive cause.

    The Tory offer of 3 Cabinet seats is derisory. Home Secretary is a poisoned chalice. Chief Secretary to the Treasury is known to be the most junior job in the Cabinet, an insult to the most trusted Treasury spokesman in the UK. Transport is interesting, but what about Education, Health or Defence?

    Please vote down the proposed Con Lib Dem coalition and vote in favour of Progressive Politics.

  • @ Matt

    Are you really a party member? Your views are sounding decidedly “wolf in sheep’s clothing” to me.

    Tory troll alert?

  • @ Philip Young

    Just put together existing natural constituencies. Many towns and cities have multiple constituencies that could be put together right now. Changes can come later.

    Multiple member constituencies existed previously in our system and they can easily come back in. They already exist in our council wards, so what is the problem?

  • ‘I will never vote Liberal Democrat again’.

    Sorry Guys & Girls – when we do finally get PR – this result of no Party with a majority will be common – if you cant accept that the Lib Dems may have to work with other parties besides Labour then perhaps its time for you to say goodbye.

  • I agree Matt…..

    My concern is the damage it will do if Liberal Democrats cooperate with Labour Party.
    Of course National Interest comes first but why shoot yourself in the foot and put yourself in a weaker position, when another general election called?
    No Government is going to come out of this, smelling of roses…. economic situation is really bad…

    How long would a Liberal Labour cooperation last? No majority….
    Guess could ask same question if cooperate with Conservatives? but… surely Liberal Democrats do not just want to pick up Labour held seats? they need to be attractive across political spectrum if they want more seats….
    Joining/Propping up Gordon Brown cant be the answer to this?


  • The way I see it, the maths works like this:

    A majority is not 326, first of all. 650 minus 5 Sinn Fein, who do not take up their seats = 645, therefore a majority is actually 323.

    Labour 258+ Lib Dem 57+ SDLP 3+ Green1+ Alliance1=320

    Tories 307 (assuming Thirsk goes their way)+ DUP 8=315

    That leaves the nine nationalists. If they force down a combined left of centre government, they risk a new election, that would deliver a full Tory majority (because fewer Lib Dem MPs) and even worse funding for them. The SNP has already said it would not ally itself with the Conservatives. Under this logic, while they may expect some insulation from cuts, their demands might be moderated to some extent.

    It wouldn’t be pretty, but it could work as long as a PR referendum (STV, AV+ or AMS, not AV) is tied into any overall package and not given to Labour MPs as a separate option.

  • Robert C
    Are you a Labour member? Because that sounds like an attempt to smear 🙂

  • Greenfield –
    But at this moment its first past the post….
    If you have PR then your expectations are rightly different…..
    Interesting to see comments that put other side to my view… I voted Liberal and NOT Gordon Brown
    others voted Liberal and not for Conservatives…..

    Seems that between rock and a hard place?


  • I’m not advocating for the Tories. I am saying I passionately believe we should stay away from Labour and show we can be practical and open. This is our chance to demonstrate we can work in government and in the national interest. We are a progressive party and we would be tainted if we supported a discredited government.
    In my past comment I was trying to be honest and practical.

  • @ No, I am a card carrying member of the Liberal Democrats, living in West Hampstead, where we thankfully elected Lib Dem councillors this week.

    I don’t believe any true member would post opinions like yours.

    ” We got 22% of the vote and so we clearly do not speak for the majority of people in this country yet and we should be reasonalble in our demands for the national good and not play politics too much.”

    Come on, who are you trying to kid? By the way it was 23% not 22%.

  • @ Greenfield

    Happy to work with others, but on fair terms. If we work with the Conservatives, they will be the first to shaft us when they get the chance. We want PR. They won’t/can’t give it to us.

  • I’m sorry your are right on the 23%
    I’m also sorry you don’t like reasonable debate and the thought that members of your party may disagree with your opinion. There are people in the Liberal Democrats who deeply dislike Gordon Brown and I find the prospect of him being in power awful. What is so unreasonable about that?

  • Can I also just add that my views are reasonably similar to Anthony Tuffins who wrote the article we are commenting on. Is he a ‘Tory’ as well???

  • My final comment

    The longer Gordon Brown, exercises his constitutional right to camp in number 10, having lost the election, the more unpopular he will become……..
    and if the Liberal Democrats support him in this then they will be tainted…..

    Best of luck
    The decision is yours……

    but don’t count on my vote again

    If you want to attract Conservative disillusioned voters… think carefully



  • My final comment
    Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, spin, smear, Iraq, Hutton, Bigotgate.
    I do not want to be part of a party that supports this government and I’m sorry if that upsets other Lib Dems. We may have something to gain but the stink of this government will taint us for many years to come.

  • Jyoti Rawat 8th May '10 - 2:17pm

    I can’t see how Lib Dem can marry Conservatives…..They don’t have anything common at all….There are fundamental differences in their outlook and values…
    Its less likely be a successful coalition and future dispute may arise, which is not in national interest…

  • All the people saying, “I’ll never vote Lib Dem again if you do x” really does underline the bankruptcy of our electoral system where people have to vote tactically for the “least worst” option rather than for policies and parties they truly believe in. A political party cannot survive on such flaky support and probably doesn’t deserve to.

    Secondly, Labour have behaved in the least progressive way of any government since Thatcher and yet suddenly we can form an alliance with them? After Iraq, the non-action over political reform and all the attendant baggage, it doesn’t wash!

    Thirdly, I think some people are looking the prospect of us being in government at this backwards. what if we get some decent policy concessions that really benefit people in this country? We could then point to a record for the first time in over 80 years! Think of how the Lib Dems in Scotland trumpeted the abolition of tutition fees when they were part of the Lab-LibDem govt there.

  • The fact is Lib Dem and Conservatives do have a similar stances on certain Civil Liberties issues.

    For example, despite the recession, Labour will continue to pump millions into an ID card / National Database scheme nobody wants. Cons and Libs won’t.

  • Tony Greaves 8th May '10 - 3:23pm

    I just suggest that everyone calms down and lets the processes of post-election negotiations take place.

    Ther are no ideal outcomes because the result (the numbers) is just about the worst possible for the Liberal Democrats. But we have to live with it.

    Tony Greaves

  • Have never voted LD but never will if they get into bed with the Tories. Not only that but it would end the LDs as a credible force in Scots politics. With next years Scots Parliament elections coming up, a LD pact would see their vote evaporate.

    Vote LibDem for Old Etonian Tory rule?

  • My father stood a candidate for the SDP back in the 80s. I have always had a great deal of respect for the lib dems I voted for them in all the general elections going back to 87 till this last one. But two regicides and this cam and clegg show means I will never, ever, vote lib dem again. I feel utterly betrayed and will never have anything to do with them again. A plague upon both their houses

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