Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hypothetical? I'll Give You Hypothetical!

I find myself roused from my self-imposed election blogging slumber (enforced by the coincidence of dissertations and exams, including one on polling day!) to make a fairly simple point; the trouble with the media isn't that it's asking too many hypothetical questions about hung parliaments, it's that it isn't asking nearly enough...

Okay, so the obvious one (to Lib Dems at any rate) about the Labservatives going into coalition is probably answered, but why isn't Dave asked if he would form a coalition with The David Miller Band if he was an option instead of Scunner Broon? It's no less likely than any of the variations that Nick's been asked about (though Liberals and Social Democrats of a certain vintage might like to avoid any thoughts of something being run by two men called David...)

Then consider the one known technicality that everyone seems to have ignored. I caught a bit of the leaders debate on UTV which reminded me that, despite what all the explanations of what happens in a hung parliament keep saying, the threshold for an overall majority isn't 325; you have to take Sinn Fein abstaining into account. If they keep their current five seats, that's six non-voting MPs (with the Speaker) and the threshold drops to 322.

And this is the deeper point; as the FT's (admittedly rather barking) story about the Conservatives reaching out to the nationalists illustrates, if Parliament does hang every single seat matters to the maths, and not necessarily in the nationalist super-block pipedream world. For example, the differential between the largest and second-largest party will be crucial, because if all the non-Lib Dem parties can't bridge that gap, then a minority government with Lib Dem support works far more easily (because the Lib Dems can abstain rather than having to vote for things to pass them). If it's a bit bigger, maybe you toss Barnett reform (which we support anyway) at the nationalists and get them onto the minority boat as well.

All of that is speculation, but the trouble is that none of it is appreciably more or less likely than the straight-up coalition everyone seems to want Nick to sign his name to before May 6th (or rather, that they want to harangue him about until he answers at which point they want to harangue him for what his answer was...) Hell, if you want to speculate, try as I have to work out what cabinet jobs Brown or Cameron would offer Nick exactly; maybe they have to have Vince, but that's humiliating to Brown (and in a way it wouldn't be to Miller Band or Balls...), we'd want Justice for the constitutional responsibilities but can you imagine either party wanting to make us responsible for prisons after how much idiotic crowing they've done about soft on crime...

Ultimately, the answer to every hypothetical hasn't changed since Ming was answering them four years ago; people elect their MP to represent them in their defined geographical area, and then those MPs go to Westminster and, through the Queen's Speech Debate, elect a Prime Minister. It may not have mattered that that's how it works for a good few years but, and this is my phrase of the election, that is the system we have. All we can control is who we send, through our ballots, to make that choice. And on that, the position has not and will not changed; the more Liberal Democrat MPs we elect, the more likely we are to see Liberal Democrat policies enacted in the next four years.

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