Friday, 9 March 2007

How Ming should tackle the hung Parliament question

Until last week, Ming Campbell had a fantastic get-out line whenever he was asked about a hung Parliament. He would say that he was only interested in "maximum votes and maximum seats" for the Liberal Democrats. And that helped to stop our campaigning being derailed by speculation about something which, if it occurs at all, is a good couple of years off.

Conservative blogger Iain Dale believes that, after Harrogategate, the "maximum votes" line will no longer work. Apparently, the Lib Dems are in for a rocky ride during the next few months, and we're going to hear the same question asked ever more loudly. In Iain's view, we need a more convincing answer if we're going to escape without any more harm.

The truth is, we are making a total dog's dinner of the coalition question. There's a much simpler way of doing things; one which will hopefully show the whole question up for the redundant timewaster it really is.

Ming is apparently going to make a speech at the Welsh Conference this weekend. The BBC appears to have the full text in advance. He's going to stress the importance of proportional representation to the party. But if he wanted to undo the damage of last week, and end the speculation about his views on Gordon Brown, he might also say the following:

"A hung Parliament is a very rare event. It last happened in 1974, and then only for eight months. It would be very foolish for a political party to base its strategy on a hung Parliament, and I want to make this very clear: the Lib Dems under my leadership will not be aiming for, or campaigning for, a hung Parliament. We'll keep our feet on the ground, and concentrate on the issues we care about - a fairer, safer society, in a Britain that is both prosperous and environmentally aware. We've put forward radical and innovative policies to bring that about, and that's what I want to talk about.

"But there is still a certain chance of a hung Parliament at the next election. It's not likely, but there's a greater chance now than there has been for a while. Many people have asked me whether the Lib Dems would be more likely to support Labour or the Tories, if we held the balance of power. And although I hate the idea of speculating about something that will probably never happen, I think it's only fair to set out my thoughts.

"The truth is, I can't endorse either Labour or the Tories. I don't believe either of them has the right answers for Britain. They both have their strengths, and I could name quite a few Tory and Labour MPs for whom I have a great deal of respect. But I don't believe either party has what it takes to govern well, which is why the Liberal Democrats stand against Labour and the Tories, and put ourselves forward as an alternative.

"British people deserve a strong Government, and my party has no desire to hold Parliament to ransom. It's probably fair to say that no party can speak for literally everyone, so in a mature, adult democracy, we should be capable of working together for the common good.

"If there were to be a hung Parliament after the next General Election, this is exactly what I would do:

"I would look very closely at the results of the election, and at the national debate. I'd speak to my constituents, and I'd spend time visiting different parts of the UK. I would try my best to build up the best possible image of what British voters want, and what they were trying to say when they voted the way they did.

"And then I would sit down and talk with both David Cameron and with Gordon Brown. I would be open-minded, and go in without any prejudices - but I would always bear in mind the liberal principles and policies of our manifesto. Most of all, I would bear in mind the views and needs of the British people, who deserve a strong and capable Government. I would try my hardest to thrash out a programme of legislation that reflected those needs. If I could achieve that, with either of the other parties, then - and only then - would I agree to enter Government.

"As a Liberal Democrat, I don't believe that politicians should do deals behind closed doors. Mr Brown and Mr Cameron should be under no illusions. If the Lib Dems agreed to a coalition, we would insist on explaining to the public exactly what we had agreed on, and exactly what compromises we'd had to make. We'd also insist on being honest with the public about what the disagreements were, what things we'd agreed to leave on one side until the next election for the sake of stability.

"People in this country can vote Liberal Democrat with confidence. They know that a strong Lib Dem contingent in Parliament will fight for liberal, social and environmental policies, come what may. And they can be certain that in a hung Parliament, we would stick to our principles, we would be faithful to our manifesto, and we would listen to their message. On my watch, if people vote Lib Dem, they know exactly what they're getting."


Apologies for the speechwriting gimmick. In my defence, I'm not the only one. David Cameron, Tony Blair and Chucky Kennedy have had to suffer "should-have-said" speeches written for them, by bloggers, by pundits, and even by the general public!


Craig Aston said...

Jonny, this is all well and good, a good post which Iain Dale has praised. But you don't really think Ming would say "As a Liberal Democrat, I don't believe that politicians should do deals behind closed doors", do you?

The whole point of the Lib PR scam is so that votes cast at General Elections are so many bargaining chips for the LibDem leader of the day to sit behind closed doors and bash out an agreement with whichever party is fool enough (or just first) to grasp at power by giving the Libs what they want (under threat of withdrawal of support): places in the cabinet and effectively veto over major aspects of policy.

The whole idea of Government being decided that way in any hung Parliament, with the Libs in power perpetually and thus no democratic accountability, stinks.

Personally, I feel if there is a hung Parliament in 2009 and the Tories are the largest party, Cameron should form a minority Government and dare Ming and Brown to no-con before he's even had a chance to show what we can do. If they do, the country will surely return the Tories with a majority, if only because "they weren't given a fair and proper chance."


Anonymous said...

To be honest I am a bit startled that Ming thinks that proping up a minority Labour government won't damage the LibDems.

"The man who rescued NuLabour"

Anonymous said...


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