Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Coalition decision

I have heard now a few times from senior sources in the party that if there is a hung parliament then we would discuss the possibility of a coalition with whoever wins the most seats. This seems to be an attempt to say "we will let the electorate decide" and then deal with the strongest party afterwards.

However the problem is that the strongest party may not have had the most votes. As the recession bites, Labour's chances of being the largest party are fading, however let's hypothesise for a moment that the following vote shares and seats occur (derived by using the UK Polling swing calculator here):

The numbers in the boxes on the left are the percentages. Because of our rotten electoral system, in the above example Labour have the largest number of seats (290, 16 more than the Conservatives) even though they only get 33% of the vote against 38% for the Tories. Are we honestly saying that in this scenario, we would prop up an exhausted and discredited Labour government who actually got 5% less of the popular vote than the Tory party?

I think we have missed a trick here. We should have said that in the event of a hung parliament we would talk to the party that got the highest proportion of the popular vote, irrespective of how many seats they got. This should hold true even if it would mean eschewing the possibility of forming a coalition with a working majority. If we want to send a very powerful message about the unfairness of the existing system, then we should do this even if it would mean forming a minority coalition (or working arrangement with the party with the largest vote).

If we were to signal this very strongly in advance, it might actually kick-start a wider debate about the current electoral system. Examples like the above highlight exactly what is wrong with our current system.

Oh, and finally, just for fun (as Peter Snow would say) I put in another scenario which even more blatantly shows how screwed up the system is:

Even with a 12% lead in the popular vote over the two other parties, we are still not the largest party in parliament!


Bernard Salmon said...

Or maybe we should just continue doing what we're doing at the moment, which is not to discuss hypothetical post-election scenarios and just concentrate on putting across our case to the best of our ability.

Mark Thompson said...

Yes, I expected some people to feel this way.

The reality is though that this question will be asked of us, over and over again as it always is. We have already had a stab at answering it, but I think in the wrong way and we could actually turn this into an opportunity to answer in a way that makes people think about the unfairness of the current system.

Steve Richards made some interesting points at the one day convention in January along the lines of if we want to appear to be serious about power then we should be willing to engage with this question. I agree with him.

There is nothing to stop us continuing to put our case to the electorate anyway to the best of our ability as you suggest.

Oh, and whenever I hear politicians say "I don't answer hypothetical questions" it makes them appear shifty. Far better to have a decent response than no response to these things I think.