Monday, 19 May 2008

How should we approach a hung-Parliament?

. There is little doubt that the story in this mornings Daily Telegraph saying that Nick Clegg would help the Conservative Party form a minority administration if it were the largest single party is mischief making ahead of the important by-election in Crewe and Nantwich. It's subtext is obvious; why bother voting Liberal Democrat, you will end up with a Conservative government in any case. On that level we should be immediately weary of it and on one important level dismiss it as the idle speculation it is; however, it does raise important questions so it is worth addressing just on that level.

The story says that Nick Clegg would supply the Conservative Party with "supply and confidence" and concretly that would mean supporting them in any votes of confidence and passing a Conservative budget. Now, that is a complete hostage to fortune. If the Conservatives were the largest single party then there is a persuasive argument that they have the democratic mandate however, that is not eternal. If the Tories did genuinely lose the confidence of the people it would be totally unprincipled of us to promise them our continuing support. Furthermore, not even the wisest political sears can tell concretely what a first Conservative budget would contain so it is equally wrong to promise future support. Rather it would have to be gone through line-by-line as the story says the first Queens Speech would be by Nick Clegg.

However, having the right to vet things doesn't seem like an awfully big reward for handing over the government of a nation to a party that although it might be the largest would still, in this scenario, have failed to persuade the people to trust it with the unfettered reins of power. If we failed to demand more, like the incorporation of key planks of of our programme into the legislative process then that would pose serious questions about the worthiness of such an arrangement. Indeed, anything less would be a distinct betrayal of the people who plumped for us at the polls.

Stephen Tall, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice makes some very intelligent defences of the position of the article. It would be hoped that if the Labour Party was in fact the largest single party it would indeed be offered the same opportunity as the Conservatives. This article does to me now necessitate the leadership making a clear statement because it would be wrong to alienate those people who are turning from the Labour Party in our direction. Many of those kinds of people will do so because of a reluctance to vote Conservative and that they see our agenda as the more progressive one.

We need to be quite clear that when making a decision on how to trade in a hung-Parliament we would not do so at the expense of seeing our program implemented - indeed we would trade on the basis of how best to implement that program. Also, we would not trade on our aspiration to govern one day but would proceed based on the political realities of the day.


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