Analysing the Lib Dem position 1

Before discussing the position of the Liberal Democrats with regard to the complexities of their role as kingmakers, let’s consider the positions they find themselves in.

In the view of some, they hugely underperformed at the election. I think the distinction to make is that they hugely underperformed against expectations created. For me, it was clear they weren’t going to perform well (as per my prediction. The single factor that leads to this is the jump in support on the back of the leaders’ debates. This did not represent a decisive shift. It represented a castle built on sand.

Just look at the performance of the Liberal Democrats over the elections for which they’ve existed:

  • 1983: 14.4%
  • 1987: 13.6%
  • 1992: 19.2%
  • 1997: 18.0%
  • 2001: 19.4%
  • 2005: 22.1%

For the Lib Dems to jump from 22% to the high 20s or low 30s was unlikely at best.

So their result of 23.0% represents some form of progress. This said, the number of seats they won at this election was actually 5 less than in 2005. This suggests to me that, though their share of the vote increased by one point, this support was concentrated in areas where support already existed.

Even so, despite their relatively poor performance at the election, the Lib Dems are now the kingmakers.

By their own judgment, they should be uncomfortable with this.

Nick Clegg was fond of saying that Labour’s share of the vote was little more than a fifth of the electorate once you took into account the turnout. With 23% of the vote at 65.1% turnout, the Lib Dems have just 14.97% of the eligible vote.

So a party with the support of just over 1 in 7 of the electorate is likely to determine who forms the next government.

Some will think of this as making up for all the power the Lib Dems have previously deserved but never got because of an unfair electoral system. I just think of it as a peculiarity and fairly undemocratic outcome of our current electoral system.

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rich_w

Man of letters & numbers; also occasionally of action. Husband to NTW. Dad of three. Friendly geek.

6 thoughts on “Analysing the Lib Dem position 1”

  1. Worth bearing in mind that the LD vote-share would almost certainly have been much higher in a fairer electoral system. I wanted to vote LD but knew it was a wasted vote in my constituency. I ‘m sure hundreds of thousands of other voters did the same.

  2. Though I appreciate the perspective, that seems a bit hopeful to me. The same could equally be said of Labour or Conservative voters in constituencies where voting Labour or Conservative candidates would have been a wasted vote.

  3. Its should be regarded as no accident that the Liberals (and then the Lib-dems) have remained where they are since the 1920’s

  4. I agree that it’s undemocratic. It’s also built into our electoral system that this is what happens in the unusual event of a hung Parliament. Our system itself is undemocratic. You can’t have it both ways. Either we get electoral reform or this is the way of things. I’m in favour of the former, and agree that this isn’t the way to organize a Parliament.

  5. An interesting and useful contribution to the debate.
    However, in the last part of your post, you write:
    “So a party with the support of just over 1 in 7 of the electorate is likely to determine who forms the next government.
    Some will think of this as making up for all the power the Lib Dems have previously deserved but never got because of an unfair electoral system. I just think of it as a peculiarity and fairly undemocratic outcome of our current electoral system.”
    Does this makes any sense? Are you suggesting that, in a supposedly more democratic, the Liberal Democrats would have less power?
    Surely, in a system based on some form of PR, for the same votes cast, the Liberal Democrats would obtain many more seats and, therefore, have much more power. If, as others have suggested, the prospect of them having more power under such a system would attract more votes, then surely they would have even more power?
    Not only would they have more seats, but the combination of the equality of and the increased number of votes per seat for the two larger parties is highly likely to reduce the difference in the number of seats for each of those parties. Consequently, the probability of those Liberal Democrat seats representing a significant proportion of the balance of power is much higher.
    All of this suggests that “power” currently held by the Liberal Democrats is exactly the opposite of “a peculiarity and fairly undemocratic outcome of our current electoral system”.

  6. Naomi – I’m not saying I have a problem with the position the Lib Dems find themselves in. Far from it – if a hung parliament is the result of the general election (which it is) and means they hold the balance of power (which it does), I’m all for it!
    John – thanks for your comment. I’m talking solely about the current system, and suggesting that some people will say “Aha – we’ve never had power before, but this time we do!” It is peculiar in the sense that hung parliaments are unusual, and it’s undemocratic in the sense that the current Lib Dem seat share is small. But (as per my comment to Naomi above) that’s not to say I’m uncomfortable with it.
    Totally agree with your analysis if we had a pure PR electoral system.

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