LDV readers say: mixed response to Hung Parliament scenarios

by Stephen Tall on April 11, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, LDV started a new poll based on a Hung Parliament scenario floated by PoliticalBetting.com’s Mike Smithson – that the next election might result in the Tories winning the popular vote, and Labour winning the most seats. What, he asked, would the Lib Dems do in such a situation? We turned the question over to our readers, and asked: In the event of a Hung Parliament, should the Lib Dems allow the seat winners or the popular vote winners to form a government?

Here’s what you told us:

>> 38% (97 votes) – The winner of the popular vote
>> 11% (28) – The winner of the most seats
>> 35% (90) – Neither: we should oppose whatever the circumstances
>> 17% (43) – Don’t know / Other
Total Votes: 258. Poll ran: 28th March – 6th April, 2009

A bare plurality of LDV readers who voted in the poll – 38% of you – opted to allow the winner of the popular vote to form a government. Only slightly fewer, 35%, argued the Lib Dems should keep our distance from either Labour or the Tories, no matter how the votes/seats stack up. One-sixth of you, 17%, rejected any of the options on offer (or else were don’t knows). A pretty small minority – little more than one-in-ten of you – said we should back the party with the most seats, which would most likely be done by offering what’s known as ‘supply and confidence’ (an idea floated in the Telegraph, allegedly by the Lib Dem leadership, in May last year).

All in all, a mixed bag, with no single view dominating. And indeed if you read the comments thread which followed, it’s pretty clear there are very diverse opinions among party supporters – from those who disdain thinking at all about the prospect of a Hung Parliament at all; to those for whom proportional representation is a deal-breaker; to those who whould tacitly support an arrangement with the Tories / Labour; to those who would quit the party if there were an arrangement with the Tories / Labour; to those observing that Labour and the Tories have more in common with each other than either shares with us; to those stating we should vote on an issue-by-issue basis.

In one sense, this isn’t surprising – a Hung Parliament is a very slim possibility, and unknown in 35 years (since which time, politics has changed beyond recognition). As a result, Lib Dem members have not had to think about the hard reality that might confront the party in the eventuality of neither Labour nor the Tories winning a Commons mandate.

And I’m not suggesting the party should obsess about the issue: it’s a distraction – and a hypothetical one at that – from campaigning, and winning the seats that will determine the extent of Lib Dem influence after the next election. And yet, and yet… The fact that there is such a plurality of views within the party about how we might respond troubles me. For if a Hung Parliament were to happen, the Lib Dems – like it or not – would be the subject of intense public scrutiny. The last thing we need is for MPs and activists to pull in several different directions at the same time, making the party look inchoate and rudderless.

We might, just might, be able to get through a general election campaign chanting the motto, ‘maximum votes, maximum seats’; it won’t sustain us in the days after the result is known. Of course party members must decide what we do once the smoke has cleared, and we can at last judge matters on the basis of certainties rather than speculation.

But it’s my view that the party leadership needs to engage in some some calm, quiet strategising about the approach we might take, and to start sharing it’s thinking with the membership. We don’t have to get bogged down in details, but some broad-but-clear principles would be welcome. Otherwise we risk being caught like rabbits in the headlights at just the moment we actually gain the full glare of publicity.