With the polls as they have been for the last couple of weeks one thing I have been wondering is what the effect would be if something historic happened and the Lib Dems did not come third in the vote share.
In some polls last week the Lib Dems were actually first. In more recent polls they seem to have settled into second place on average.
I think if the Lib Dems really were to come first but to get less seats than either Labour or the Conservatives (which is perfectly possible under First Past the Post) then this would spark a constitutional crisis. It would mean that the party that had won the election was only awarded third place. I think that would be unsustainable and rightly the public would demand things had to change to sort this out.
Perhaps a more interesting question is what would happen if the Lib Dems were to come second in terms of vote share, but still third in terms of seats (again perfectly possible and indeed probably quite likely) and if they did not enter into a coalition or deal but instead remained in opposition. This is what could happen if the Conservatives got a very small majority or were even a few seats short but decided to go ahead as a minority government perhaps with support from one of the smaller parties.
The question in my mind under this scenario would be which party is the official opposition? Is it Labour who let's say get around 200 seats on say 27% of the vote? Or is it the Lib Dems with let's say 110 seats on 29% of the vote?
I think constitutionally the answer is Labour. They would have the second highest number of seats, therefore they would form the official opposition in terms of parliamentary strength. But hang on a minute, they will have come third! The Lib Dems would have won second place in the country and yet be denied the platform that this result should allow.
Now maybe it is because I am too involved in politics (and am a Lib Dem) that I would perceive this to be an outrage. Maybe it would seem like a minor technicality in the country and most people would just shrug their shoulders. At least the system got the winner right eh, even if second and third are the wrong way round?
I'm not so sure. The British public have a very strong sense of fair play and this will clearly have gone against that. How could Labour lay claim to lead the opposition when more people voted for another opposition party than them? This would be brought up endlessly and commented upon time and again. Every time the Labour leader got 6 questions at PMQs the Lib Dems would be incensed that they only got a third of that number with their leader having to stand at the side holding sheaves of paper without a dispatch box.
I know it might sound petty to complain about this but these things matter. One of the reasons that Nick Clegg managed to blind-side Cameron and Brown in the first leaders' debate is because of how he is treated at PMQs almost as an irrelevance with his 2 questions asked after Cameron has had his 6 and with 500 odd MPs baying at him trying to drown him out. It would not be petty to question the fairness of this continuing under these circumstances.
I wonder what might ultimately happen in this scenario. Our constitution is uncodified and has proved malleable in the past. I wonder if a way would have to be found to accommodate the opposition that had won more vote share than the "official" opposition.
I certainly think just carrying on as if the Lib Dems had come third in the country would not be an option.