So it’s the vote winners that matter – not the seat winners?
For several years I have been posing the question of whether, in the event of a hung parliament, the Lib Dems would side with the party that won most seats or the party that won most votes – something that has again been brought into focus by the Ipsos-MORI poll.
For the party of “fair votes” this was always going to present a dilemma – because the way the seat projections work out suggest that Labour would almost certainly have an overall majority with a simple plurality of votes.
So just about the only circumstance that Brown’s party would need support of other parties would be if they came second in the overall vote share.
And is it feasible that the Lib Dems would keep in power a Labour government that had been beaten in overall votes but had come top in terms of seats? This goes right to the heart of the Lib Dems position on a fair voting system.
Clegg did not quite spell it out fully in his Andrew Marr show appearance but went a long way. He said “Whichever party has the strongest mandate from the British people, it seems to me that they have the first right to try and govern, either on their own or with others.”
He then went onto to clarify what he meant by “strongest mandate” : “I start from a simple principle. We’re not kingmakers. The votes of the British people should determine what happens”.
It’s that emphasis on votes that I think is significant. Inevitably this could present problems within his party and his predecessor, Ming Campbell, has talked about the “Armageddon” scenario of a Tory victory. But linking any support to the popular mandate makes it a point of principle.
My reading of today’s interview is that unless Brown’s party secures most votes then Clegg won’t back him even if Labour has more seats. And if Labour has most votes then there will be a clear majority.