I have just made a telephone call here in the House of Lords and lying next to the telephone was the confidential briefing that the LibDems have given to their spokespeople on what to say if they are asked about a hung Parliament.

It starts with a stern admonition:

“The only benefit of a debate about a no-overall-control Parliament is if we use it to get across our key policies.

Entering into speculation about the mechanics of a “hung” or “balanced” parliament will simply see you dragged into further complexity.

And we know that Liberal Democrats cannot cope with complexity.

Apparently, “only if pushed” are LibDem spokespeople supposed to say:

“There will be no deals, understandings or agreements of any kind before peole have voted.  No such conversations have or will take place.”

So what are they hiding?  Why can that only be said, if pushed?

And then they have their mandate line (but still “only if pushed”:

IF voters decide no party deserves an overall majority, then the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or seek alliances with other parties.

So that is a nice, unconvoluted, set of words.

And sorry to be a pedant but each voter is an individual casting their ballot in a single constituency – so voters cannot collectively decide that no party should have an overall majority.

And what constitutes the strongest mandate?  Helpfully there is a little Q & A to explain it:

“Q:  Does the ‘strongest mandate’ mean more seats or votes?

A:  It will be abundantly clear after the election which party has the strongest mandate.  It would be pointless to speculate at this point as to whether that means seats or votes – we are setting out a principle, not a mathematical formula.

Errr pardon?  Would you just run that past me again? 

I thought that the Liberal Democrat principle was that we needed electoral reform so that the precise national balance of votes cast was reflected in the numbers elected to Parliament.  But now – despite our so-called unfair voting system – seats matter just as much as votes.

So like all Liberal Democrat principles, this strongest mandate thingee is eminently flexible and Nick Clegg will be open to the best offer on the day …

They might call that a “principle”; I ‘m not sure that I would.

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