Journalists continue to ask the wrong question about hung Parliaments

With Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow, it is understandable that journalists are breaking out the hung Parliament speculation file.

Yet almost all the speculation is deeply flawed, repeating long-standing errors and failing even to learn from 2010.

Speculating about whether the Lib Dems might prefer Labour or the Tories in a hung Parliament may be fun, yet also mostly pointless.

That is for two reasons. First, it is the voters who get nearly all the power as it is the Parliamentary arithmetic that determines which party combinations are feasible. The chance of the third party leader having a full choice between which other party to support made for a fun Jeffrey Archer novel but is very unlikely in reality.

Second, the big choice that someone will have is for David Cameron and Ed Miliband: do you want minority government or coalition if there is a hung Parliament?

That is the big choice where politicians have a mostly free hand to pick the choice they want. Journalists ignored in before 2010, and as a result their pre-2010 speculation missed what was the crucial political decision that has shaped this Parliament – Cameron’s decision to prefer coalition.

Smart journalists won’t repeat that mistake for 2015.

2 responses to “Journalists continue to ask the wrong question about hung Parliaments”

  1. Setting aside the clear ideological divides which exist between ourselves and Labour. Two obvious problems with too eagerly cosying up with Labour.  The 8% of ex-Tories thinking of voting UKIP and giving us a chance in marginal seats like Watford will be herded straight back to the mother-ship.   If we have a coalition with Labour it is going to be much much harder to differentiate ourselves from them on issues which really move the electorate.  We will appear as “me too” lobby fodder.

  2. @Chris Lewcock I think your analysis misses an important point. In seats where the Lib Dems are in two way marginals with the Tories, they represent the main opposition to the right, in other words they are seen by progressive, left-of-centre voters in those constituencies as the alternative to the Tories. If the Lib Dems remain too close to the Tories, then they risk pushing progressive voters into the hands of Labour, and splitting the anti-Tory vote in those constituencies. Know your enemy, in Lib Dem/Tory marginals, the Lib Dems main enemy is the Tories, not Labour. This represents a far larger section of the electorate than the 8% of Tories who may, or may not, vote UKIP. The fact is, most of these potential UKIP voters are likely to vote Tory anyway in a general election, because whatever people might say, they tend to understand that not voting for a viable party is a wasted vote. Hence the fact that Lib Dems won 23% of the vote in 2010, even as they enjoyed more like 30% support in opinion polls. People understand they must be pragmatic in how they vote under FPTP.
    Secondly, I see no real reason why differentiation with Labour should be any more difficult than differentiation with the Tories. Many, rightly or wrongly, see the Lib Dems as “me too” lobby fodder for the Tories.

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