By Harry Phibbs
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Interviewed by Andrew Marr yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was asked whether the Lib Dems would choose a coalition with the Conservatives or Labour if the 2015 General Election delivers a hung Parliament.
Mr Clegg said that the formation of the Government would mostly depend on which of the main parties "got the clearest mandate from the British people – the most votes, the most seats and therefore has the democractic right to seek to assemble the Government."
It all sounds rather reasonable. But what if one Party gets most votes and another gets most seats?
Should the Labour Party get the most votes it is most unlikely that they will need to be bothering Mr Clegg and his colleagues. There is a website called Electoral Calculus which allows one to offer alternative scenarios for vote shares and see what the projection those would mean in terms of seats should a uniform swing apply.
Even if Labour were only a point ahead of the Conservatives – say 36 per cent to the Conservatives on 35 per cent and the Lib Dems on 14 per cent – Labour would practically have an overall majority. On the scenario I have given they would be just two seats short – given that Sinn Fein's five MPs don't turn up that is effectively an overall majority.
Given the implausibility of all the Scot Nats and Democratic Unionists – let alone the SDLP – all rallying round with the Conservatives and Lib Dems there would be not need for Labour to form a coalition even if they were ten to 15 seats short of an overall majority.
If the latest polling from Lord Ashcroft is sustained Labour will do rather better in the marginal seats that their share of the vote nationally would suggest thus making an outcome where they get fewer votes but more seats a greater probability.
So the only realistic prospect of the Lib Dems putting Labour into power would be despite the Conservatives having obtained more votes than Labour. This would be a rather messy outcome for those wishing democracy to prevail. While the Lib Dems claim to have a great concern for equal votes they would have great culpability. They voted against equalising constituency boundaries which would have reduced Labour's unfair advantage.
If the Lib Dems put Ed Miliband into Downing Street under such circumstances the credibility of such a Government would be highly dubious. That is one reason which if there is a similar number of Labour and Conservative MPs elected a Lib Dem coalition with the former is less likely than the latter.