For a long time, the thought of a hung Parliament was a promised land to Liberal Democrats. In as much as the party had a long-term strategy after the demise of Paddy Ashdown’s flirtations with Tony Blair (which brought some important successes but ended in failure) it was a Rennardism-based one of gradually building up strength in the House of Commons seat by seat.
The plan, rarely stated in public or written down, but a plan nonetheless was that the number of Lib Dem MPs would eventually be high enough to ensure a hung Parliament. At which point the party could secure major political reforms to the voting and political funding systems. Followed by a real chance of a Liberal Democrat-led government under the new rules.
Then came 2010.
For all the many lessons that can be learnt about how the 2010 hung Parliament was handled, the biggest is that there was no good way forward. Having such a disparate coalition of support meant that whatever the Lib Dems did, disaster beckoned. Perhaps disaster rather than catastrophe could have been secured at the next general election, but there was just too much irreconcilable between those who voted Lib Dem and really didn’t want a Labour Prime Minister and those who voted Lib Dem and really didn’t want a Conservative Prime Minister. Hence my long banging of the drum for a core votes strategy.
But even with such an approach, there is the question of what to do if a hung Parliament gets served up again.The party had a close escape in 2017. If you think that election result was disappointing, imagine what it would have been like with a few seats different and the Lib Dems having the choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn led parties. Winning a few more seats could have turned out far worse.
The approach taken in 2017 had been to try to avoid the question completely by ruling out any coalition option and so trying to minimise the usual debilitating distraction of so much of the party’s general election media coverage being taken up by the question. Tim Farron did manage to avoid that question dominating media coverage, though the dominance of questions about his theology made these old distractions seem rather attractive by contrast.
All of which leaves a question about what approach to take next time round.
Over to you… what would you do?