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

by Stephen Tall on March 28, 2009

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 – 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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No comments

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

by Bruce Wilson on March 28, 2009 at 12:24 pm. Reply #

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.

by Cheltenham Robin on March 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm. Reply #

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.

by Chris Stanbra on March 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm. Reply #

Surely what we should do is form a coalition with whoever best represents our policies?

by Andreas Christodoulou on March 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm. Reply #

Wait and see what they each offer quid pro quo.

by iainm on March 28, 2009 at 12:45 pm. Reply #

Let the government fall. Our primary concern would be to wrangle STV out of the minority government, nothing else. Once that occurs, trigger a vote of no confidence and go to the voters on a fair voting system.

by Huw Dawson on March 28, 2009 at 12:51 pm. Reply #

Of course if our tool of acquiesence is abstention on the Queen’s speech, then that can’t be used to support the party with more votes and fewer seats – the other party would still defeat them.

That stumbling block aside, clearly the votes are what matter for moral authority, and if another party were to concede this, by supporting proportional representation themselves, then that would seem to be a good starting point.

But while the other parties oppose PR, the party with more votes and fewer seats hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

by Joe Otten on March 28, 2009 at 1:15 pm. Reply #

@ 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.

by carrion on March 28, 2009 at 1:17 pm. Reply #

We must push for STV and make it the deal breaker.
There are other very important considerations.
Nick Clegg has said he will break the law in opposing ID cards, so it is inconceivable we can be part of a government that causes us to break the law.
However more important still is the economy. It is only the Tories who oppose the economic stimulus, so it is hard to imagine forming a coalition with them. In addition, tackling global warming is also very important and we have to push for that as much as we can.
We have a good case to say that Vince Cable should be chancellor of the exchequer, we should insist on that.
I would like us to insist that we do not replace Trident, but party policy does not back me up on that.
To be fair to the electorate, we have to take into accunt that whoever wins the most votes should be the first party we should seek agreement with.
We have to make clear that we might not form a coalition with anyone. We need to say this – and mean it – in order to strengthen our negotiating position. The downside is that we will be blamed for any instability and it may undermine our case for fair votes.
I think a hung Parliament is more likely now than ever, as the Tories need a big lead to win the general election. I put it at about 50:50 probability.

by Geoffrey Payne on March 28, 2009 at 1:24 pm. Reply #

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.

by Anonymous1 on March 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm. Reply #

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.

by Paul Griffiths on March 28, 2009 at 2:41 pm. Reply #

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.

by Richard Whelan on March 28, 2009 at 2:44 pm. Reply #

I have voted “other” (would any LibDem Voice reader be a “don’t know?” on this one?). On this ocassion I think this is a bit of a daft poll. What if the seat winner has a policy of no immigration and “sending home” some people? And the poll winner wants to boil babies at 6 months old? It’s all a matter of the policies on which we had MPs elected and how they match or reconcile or, more probably, don’t reconcile with the policies proposed in office by the vote or seat winning party. I am a great fan of issue by issue decision-making myself. From the point of view of outright “backing” for another party we should always start with the question: “Why the hell should we?”. I am in this party because I am a Liberal Democrat. If I wanted the party to “back” another party across the board, I would join that party.

by Paul Walter on March 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm. Reply #

I agree with Paul Walter, and have voted “other” too. I could just leave it at that but I’ll expand a bit…

We are going out on the streets asking people to vote for Liberal Democrat policies. The MPs elected by this effort must use the power given to them to best implement Liberal Democrat policies.

Whether this is through forming a coalition with one or other party or by voting issue by issue will depend on the extent to which one or both of the other parties commit to implementing Liberal Democrat policies.

It’s pretty simple.

by Jon Ball on March 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm. Reply #

The answer to this question should be `That the Lib Dems are in it to to win it’

It is too fatuous to ask simply because Liberal Democrats are wedded to their true core party policies and values and if the electorate catch a real sniff of this resolute commitment, in the run up to the General Election, than our total vote across the board, will be much higher.

The fact remains, that although people are fed up with a tired,listless Government, with no moral conscience, compass for the poor or vulnerable or `silent majority’,the oppressed and all those seeking a fairer modern Britain, they do not seem either to have too much enthusiasm for voting for the Tories, under Cameron, whom after all is said and done, was Michael Howard`s chief speech writer, in 2005.

I believe that we should stick firmly to our core policies and that under Nick Clegg we will deliver fairer, less sectarian policies, to the majority of the decent families of Britain and form the next Government.

The question then becomes one for the media speculators and not one for the party faithful and `activists’.

by Cllr Patrick Smith on March 28, 2009 at 3:35 pm. Reply #

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.

by Neil Bradbury on March 28, 2009 at 3:55 pm. Reply #

It all depends on what you mean by “back.”

I tend to support the idea of us sitting out but offering at least two years of confidence and supply to whoever wins the most votes. The problem is, it looks as if the Tories are so determined to push ahead with swingeing spending cuts that that would be morally indefensible.

In such a situation, I happen to think that the most responsible option in the event of a balanced Parliament would be for both the main parties form a government of national unity – probably with us remaining in the opposition benches. We can’t make any ‘deal breaker’ demands under the electoral system – it is far too easy for the government of the day to cut and run.

The real question is – would the other two parties be prepared to work together in the national interest? Why are we the ones who are expected to compromise our principles and then slagged off for making any demands of our own?

by James Graham on March 28, 2009 at 4:03 pm. Reply #

I am more than happy to accept a position that says that during the election campaign our aim is to win and we are not interested in doing deals with the oterh political parties. And as I argued, it may well be that we won’t do deals with the other political parties.
But the question is not about what we say during the campaign. It is about what happens if there is a balanced Parliament. We ought to think about it now. If we rue out coalition government, we will fail to implement some of the policies that we say we believe in, such as Proportional Representation, abolishing ID cards etc. In addition, we are at a moment in history when it is fundamentally important as to who runs the economy and the decisions they take. If we shun the opportunity to help form a stable government to guide us through these difficult times, history may judge us very harshly indeed.

by Geoffrey Payne on March 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm. Reply #

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.

by Liberal Neil on March 28, 2009 at 4:44 pm. Reply #

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.

by Iainm on March 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm. Reply #

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.

by Laurence Boyce on March 28, 2009 at 5:36 pm. Reply #

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

by Martin Land on March 28, 2009 at 5:44 pm. Reply #

I am amazed. The economy is in free fall, and noone thinks it imporatant enough to consider what we do in a hung Parliament.
These are historic times, but you wouldn’t think it reading this column.
Incidently we should think through every reasonable permutation of possibilities well in advance – because if we do not do so we simply won’t be prepared when it happens.

by Geoffrey Payne on March 28, 2009 at 6:21 pm. Reply #

It depends on which parties have enough seats that with thew Lib Dems they could form a parliamentary majority. If only one party has enough seats for this, the Lib Dems should talk to them. If both parties do, the Lib Dems should talk to both of them and see who comes up with the best deal.

by Cabalamat on March 28, 2009 at 6:32 pm. Reply #


I have to admit, the idea of a Labour/Tory “National Government” makes me sick to the core…

It would undoubtedly strengthen our hand, mind. :\

by Huw Dawson on March 28, 2009 at 7:13 pm. Reply #

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?

by David Heigham on March 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm. Reply #

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.

by tony hill on March 28, 2009 at 10:39 pm. Reply #

We “back” the party with most votes, in as much as we negotiate with them first and, all things being equal, we choose them over the other lot. If we talk to the other party second, and it turns out they’ve undergone a sudden conversion to LibDemism, then we go with them instead.

We should have a starting point, but there’s no point in trying to pre-empt the ending, which would depend on the discussions that take place.

If the party with the most votes doesn’t have the most seats, all the better: that way, it’s very difficult for said party to oppose STV. Of course, however, that shouldn’t be the only thing we’re interested in. To give that impression would make us look like a bunch of politics geeks who don’t care about the issues affecting normal people, which we simply aren’t.

by Andy Hinton on March 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm. Reply #

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

by David Evans on March 30, 2009 at 3:12 pm. Reply #

My logical position would be that we should vote on an issue-by-issue basis unless one or other party were to offer a *hugely* significant set of concessions to our policies (especially on civil liberties and PR) and at least one of the Home Office or Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I doubt either would do.

My emotive reaction is that I haven’t spent years campaigning for the Lib Dems to get the Tories in, and I’d quit the party were they to join a coalition with them. I suspect a large number of people feel that way, and an equally large number feel that way (justifiably, given the last 12 years) about Labour…

by Andrew Hickey on March 30, 2009 at 3:15 pm. Reply #

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.

by David Evans on March 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm. Reply #

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