A reply to Tom Harris: Lib Dems wait for the voters to speak. (It’s called democracy, and we kind of like it).

by Stephen Tall on March 15, 2010

Labour MP Tom Harris, bless him, is clearly feeling a little bit insecure, as the Lib Dems enjoy a successful conference with a spring in their step and the full glare of the media spotlight. Tom’s blog is a good, fun read – but like his Tory equivalent Iain Dale, he has a bit of a tribal blind spot when it comes to the Lib Dems.

Here’s what Tom has to say about Lib Dem shadow schools secretary David Laws declining to take the media bait asking whether the party would back Labour or the Tories in the event of a hung parliament:

David Laws, the LibDem MP, said on Any Questions on Friday that any such decision would not be taken until after polling day. Thank you, David. Thank you for confirming what I’ve been saying for years about the undemocratic nature, not only of the LibDems but of their most precious policy – proportional representation.

It’s entirely consistent of Laws to say that the public will not be consulted before the LibDems make a decision. That’s the essence of PR: let the little people have their vote, then ignore what they say and start bartering away the very policies they voted for behind closed doors and without reference to them.

There’s some bizarre and twisted logic contained within Tom’s rant-ette, so let’s try and unpick it. First, Tom states “the public will not be consulted”, which is an odd way of talking about a general election result. After all, it won’t be the Lib Dems’ decision if we end up with a hung parliament: it will be the consequence of the way the public has voted.

What Tom prefers, in fact, is for the public to have a vote, and then for Labour to ignore it. In 2005, almost two-thirds of the voting public (and almost three-quarters of the electorate) did not vote for Labour. The result? Labour formed a government with a majority of 67 seats over all other parties.

As for “bartering away the very policies they voted for”, what could be clearer than Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems saying at this stage that the party will stand by its four key policies in any negotiations which might prove necessary of the public declines to give any of the three parties a clear-cut victory?

And Nick is quite right to refuse to indulge mischief-making Labour/Tory MPs (and the media) asking him to define the undefinable of what precisely constitutes the “strongest mandate” which will give either party the right to seek to govern alone, or with the Lib Dems.

As Nick has made clear, a ‘photo finish’ is highly unlikely: almost certainly there will be a clear-cut winner (at least in first-past-the-post terms). More importantly, the general election campaign hasn’t even started yet. Given how the political narrative has transformed in the past two months, who’s to say it won’t change again in the coming two months? Who knows what will be thrown up by the leaders’ debates, for example?

It would be remarkably daft of Nick, or any Lib Dem, at this stage to try and second-guess the electorate, or ignore the fact that how things look on May 7th will be very different to how they seem on 14th March. Remarkable daftness is, of course, just what Tom Harris and Iain Dale are hoping for. Nick, wisely, is not going to give them what they want.