Mark Oaten has a point

by Stephen Tall on September 6, 2007

Of course, there’s lots to disagree with in today’s article by Mark Oaten in The Times arguing in favour of a Lib Dem / Tory coalition – for example:

Many people may be surprised by how much shared agenda there is between the two parties. On the environment, civil liberties and localism the two parties share some common ground.

“Surprised” doesn’t come anywhere near it, Mark. The Tory commitment to such values is about as firm as a meringue.

However, he does have at least half a point about the need for the party to shift its position what the Lib Dems would do in the event of a Hung Parliament. Simply to keep repeating our maxim, “Maximum votes, maximum seats”, will be seen as dodging the question – altogether too lawyerly – in the fevered maelstrom of a general election campaign.

Instead Mark urges:

Ming needs to come out now and state that, in the event of a hung Parliament, the Liberal Democrats will work with whichever party has the most MPs.

Well, I’m not sure whether it should be with whichever party has the most MPs… we are, after all, supposed to be a party committed to a fairer electoral system. But exchange the words “MPs” for “votes”, and I’m with him all the way.

Such an answer avoids the party getting dragged into the dead-end debate the media loves about whether the party is closer to the Tories or closer to Labour. (In reality, of course, they’re much closer to each other than we are to either one of them.) And yet it is a principled stance which promises the Liberal Democrats will respect the wishes of the public.

A double whammy, in fact.

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I don’t see why the Lib Dems should “in the name of democracy” support whichever of the big two parties gets more votes or MPs. I don’t think that people vote Lib Dems for the reason that they could become henchmen for either Labour or the Tories. I don’t think that Lib Dems even would have a moral mandate for that.

If the voters would like Lib Dems to support either Labour or Tories depending whichever gets more votes or MPs, wouldn’t it be wiser to choose Labour or Tories already in the first place, when casting the vote? That would give the voter a better chance to affect the government policies.

No, if we assume that people vote for Lib Dems because their policies (maybe an idealistic thought), the Lib Dems should use every opportunity to advocate these policies, and therefore promise their support in the event of a hung parliament to whichever of the big two parties which agrees to include more Lib Dem policies, including the PR, to the Queens Speech, and of course actually fullfil its promises.

I think that’s the only way to convince voters that voting Lib Dems makes a difference, as it is quite unlikely that Lib Dems will form the next Government on their own. If Lib Dems unconditionally support whichever of the two big parties which gets more votes or MPs, a vote for Lib Dems is a waisted vote.

Take a look how governments are formed in countries using PR. Of course the biggest party usually gets the first go to try and form a new government, but ultimately the government is formed between parties which can agree on policies. In democracy no party can be obliged to support a government, the policies of which it can’t accept. Otherwise it would be letting down its voters.

It doesn’t really matter if the biggest party of the country isn’t in government, as long as those parties which are in the government, have the majority of the votes behind them (which parties having the majority of MPs usually have in countries using the PR). That means that the government has the support of the majority of voters, which is not case in the UK.

by Anonymous on September 6, 2007 at 8:21 pm. Reply #

I think Paddy Ashdown got it right in his diaries, when he says a hung-parliament wouldn’t be a dream, it would be a nightmare!

Unless we are able to convince Labour or the Tories to have a massive shift in their policies, I really can’t see how a coalition with either would be feasible. For example, I can’t imagine a Lib Dem Foreign Secretary in a Lib-Tory government spouting the sort of nonsense about the EU that the current Eurosceptic Conservative policy may demand. Now, ok, we may be able to get their leadership to shed this sort of policy, but at the expense of the more hardline europhobe Tories making such trouble that a government would rapidly become unworkable

Secondly, although a Lib-Lab government would superficially be the more attractive option (for those of us of a centre-left persuasion!) I can’t see proping up a Labour government that had lost its majority to be anything other than a receipe for electoral suicide at the subsequent election.
The most sensible course of action would be to get an ‘confidence & supply’ agreement in exchange for certain policy concesions (e.g: PR for local government, review of student finance) and take other issues on a case by case basis.

by James on September 6, 2007 at 8:32 pm. Reply #

Anyone know what type of extreme sports Mark Oaten enjoys these days?


by Anonymous on September 6, 2007 at 11:43 pm. Reply #

Surely the Lib Dems would be attracted to the party that they had the most in common with, rather than selling their soul to the devil with the highest number of votes?

by Letters From A Tory on September 7, 2007 at 4:55 pm. Reply #

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