Giving second preferences to the Conservatives could be the best tactic for the Lib Dems under AV

If you use the delightful Electoral Calculus to ‘predict’ the 2015 UK general election result using the latest opinion-poll figures from ComRes, there’s very little variation whether you use the First Past the Post (FPTP) or Alternative Vote (AV) electoral systems. According to ComRes, the current voting intentions across the UK would be Labour 40%, Conservative 36% and Lib Dem 10%. Using FPTP without factoring in any tactical-voting swings between the parties, and on the basis of existing constituencies, Labour gains an overall majority of 40 while the Lib Dems drop to only 14 seats. Using AV still gives Labour a majority of 30 but helps the Lib Dems to 32 seats: much better, but still way below the 65 seats that would be proportional to their vote share.

Factoring in a 5% tactical-voting swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems doesn’t change the result. However, Electoral Calculus doesn’t allow you to factor in a tactical-voting swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories. On the basis of the Electoral Calculus prediction – however unreliable it may be – I would say that the best thing Lib Dem voters could do to prevent an outright Labour win would be to give their second preferences to the Tory candidates wherever they stand a chance of beating Labour.

This runs slightly contrary to my previous post on AV tactical voting, where I assumed that Lib Dem voters would be reluctant to give their second preferences to the Conservatives in seats of this sort in the context of a Labour resurgence. However, if the aim is to prevent an overall Labour majority, this makes absolute sense – just as it makes sense for Conservative voters to indicate the Lib Dem candidate as a higher preference than the Tory candidate in seats of this sort in order to defeat Labour, on the basis that Lib Dem voters couldn’t be trusted to give the Tories enough second preferences to win. Obviously, if it emerged during the campaign that doing so would be the best means for the Lib Dems to keep out Labour, then the tactical rationale would change.

Ironically, if Labour were thwarted from winning an overall majority by this tactic, then the Lib Dems would be in a much better position to form a coalition with Labour as the largest party. The same tactic would apply under FPTP, except that Lib Dem voters would have only one sensible choice: the Tories. In other words, if Lib Dem voters in Tory-Labour swing seats want a coalition with Labour, they’d be better off voting Tory as their only choice under FPTP, and as their second preference under AV, rather than voting Labour! Such is the bonkers logic of single member-constituency parliaments elected by either system!

If you enter more realistic predictions of the parties’ vote shares in 2015, you get a hung parliament under either system, the only difference being the number of Lib Dem seats. I would consider a 35% share of the vote for both Labour and the Tories to be more realistic, with the Lib Dems recovering to 20%. On this basis, Labour emerges as the largest party under both systems, with the Lib Dems gaining 45 seats under FPTP and 65 under AV.

If you enter lower vote shares for the major parties – on the basis that AV is supposed to encourage voters to opt for minor parties as their first preference – there’s virtually no change to this picture. Assuming a 32% share of first preferences for both Labour and the Tories, and 16% for the Lib Dems, Labour is still the largest party and the Lib Dems win 63 seats. Minor parties pick up only one seat, and that’s not Caroline Lucas for the Greens in Brighton Pavilion, who is predicted to lose her seat to Labour. So much for AV fostering political pluralism!


Lessons from the Australian election for AV in the UK

The Australian elections are heading towards an almost perfect tie. At the time of writing, the governing Labor party had won 70 seats, with the opposition Liberal-National Coalition gaining 72, while independents had won four seats and the Greens one. This meant that, with three seats still outstanding, no party would cross the threshold of overall control (76 seats) and a coalition deal would have to be struck between one of the larger parties, the independents and potentially the Greens.

The results in terms of seats belie the fact that the Coalition had obtained 43.5% of ‘primary votes’, compared with 38.6% for Labour and 11.4% for the Greens. So based on vote share alone, the Coalition [capital c] ought to be entitled to try to form a coalition [small c]. ‘Primary votes’ are what we’d call over here ‘ first-preference votes’: Australia uses essentially the same preferential voting system that we’re going to have the option of adopting in the referendum next May, and which is known in the UK as the Alternative Vote (AV). The only difference is that, in Australia, voters are obliged to express a ranked preference for all the candidates in the election; whereas, in the UK, voters will be allowed to rank only the candidates they actually want to vote for.

In my view, the Australian results demonstrate once again just how bad a system AV is and how it favours two-party politics, or two-and-a-half-party politics as it would be in the UK. This is because people’s higher-preference votes for smaller parties inevitably end up being eliminated in the counting process, and only those voters’ lower-preference votes for the major parties are ultimately used to determine the result. This tendency is exaggerated even further in Australia by the fact that you are obliged to exhaust the ballot (express a preference for all the candidates), so that almost every vote comes down to a contest between the two largest parties.

Also, the fact that the Greens achieved their best-ever result, and yet their 11.4% of votes translated into only one seat, shows how unfair and disproportional the system is. What essentially happened in this election is that first-preference votes for the Greens were transferred almost entirely to the Labor Party in the preference count, which frequently enabled the Labor Party to overtake the Coalition, which had obtained more primary votes than Labor in many seats. This is how Labor managed to almost achieve parity with the Coalition on seats despite its much lower share of primary votes.

In the UK, this mechanism is likely to favour the Tories and the Lib Dems at the expense of Labour. In Tory-Labour fights – in England, this is mainly in the Midlands and the North – it’s quite conceivable that more Lib Dem voters would put down the Tories as their second preference rather than Labour, especially if those two parties are still in a coalition. So if Labour is only narrowly ahead of the Conservatives on first-preference votes, it’s quite possible the Tories could leap-frog Labour to victory thanks to the Lib Dem second preferences. As a consequence of this threat, I’ve suggested elsewhere that Labour voters in close Tory-Labour elections held using AV should consider voting tactically and putting the Lib Dems down as their first choice, in order to ensure that the final two parties left in the count are the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, and so enable the Lib Dems to beat the Tories based on the second preferences of Labour voters. This example demonstrates how, despite what is claimed for it, AV actually encourages some rather perverse tactical-voting scenarios.

Meanwhile, in Tory-Lib Dem fights – e.g. in southern England – the Lib Dems are more likely to benefit from this mechanism as Labour voters’ second or final preferences would be expected to be for the Lib Dems, if anything, rather than the Tories. Now, you could say that this aspect of AV is actually fairer than allowing the election to be decided purely on the highest plurality (i.e. based on the largest minority of ‘first preferences’ only, which is effectively what First Past the Post does in most seats). But if more people genuinely want one party to win rather than any other, isn’t that a fairer result, even if it produces disproportional outcomes at a national level? AV is arguably better at producing the ‘Condorcet winner’ (the candidate that would be preferred by most voters overall to any other candidate in a straight one-to-one comparison) but not so good at indicating the candidate that is strongly preferred by the greatest number, which FPTP in theory does better – although FPTP results are distorted by tactical voting. These problems do not exist in either of the ARV or TMPR voting systems discussed in previous posts: ARV always awards the win to the most popular candidate overall, regardless of whether this is the Condorcet winner or not; and TMPR gives the seats to both the Condorcet winner and the party that is strongly preferred by most voters – or both to one party, if they are the same.

Be that as it may, as in Australia, we’d effectively end up with two-party politics in England using AV, except the two parties in the North and Midlands would be the Tories and Labour (unless tactical voting for the Lib Dems by Labour voters of the kind I suggested above kicked in), and the two parties in southern England would be the Tories and the Lib Dems. This would effectively consolidate the three parties’ stranglehold over English politics while squeezing out the smaller parties. The only way parties like the Greens and UKIP could win seats would be if there was a strong candidate from one of those parties that supporters of the other parties would vote for tactically, whether as their first or subsequent preference, in order to unseat the incumbent MP. This is in fact what happened in the Australian seat of Melbourne, won by the Greens yesterday, as first-preference supporters of the Coalition – with its notoriously hardline anti-Green leader – hypocritically transferred their subsequent preferences to the Greens in order to defeat the Labor candidate, who came top in terms of primary votes. This shows just how pernicious tactical voting can be under AV: the Greens benefiting from Coalition tactical votes designed to beat Labor, whereas normally Green voters transfer their vote to Labor.

So don’t believe it when people try to claim that AV eliminates tactical voting: far from it. Nor is it remotely proportional and, arguably, fair in terms of awarding the win to the most popular candidate in each constituency. You could argue that the overall result in Australia, in terms of seats, is proportional to the extent that, in most seats, it came down to a straight fight between the main left-of-centre and right-of-centre candidates, and that these two fundamental positions were evenly matched overall. But this does consolidate the dominance of only one left-of-centre and one right-of-centre party – or, in England, two left-of-centre parties and one right-of-centre party. And, on top of which, AV would perpetuate the electoral divisions between the different English ‘regions’, making Labour only a party of the Midlands and North, and the Lib Dems only a party of the South; while the Tories are the only real right-of-centre alternative nationwide.

No wonder the Tories were so keen to put AV, and not PR, into the coalition agreement! And perhaps there was some cynical calculation on the part of the Lib Dems to the effect that permanent three-party politics, which is the most likely consequence of AV, would at least assure they had a quasi-perpetual influence over Westminster’s unaccountable governance of England.

Clegg gets the blues

It must have been an interesting night in the Clegg household last night! The half-Dutch deputy PM watching the World Cup final with his Spanish wife, and kids with doubtless split loyalties! But as could have been predicted – and, indeed, as was predicted by that noted oracle, Paul the Octopus – the blues got the better of the orange.

The blues were indeed far more deft in their manoeuvres, and far better on the ball, than the oranges, who were left hypocritically crying foul! And when the reckoning came, the blues were the dominant force and the oranges were roundly defeated.

Now, what does that remind me of?

Alternative alternative voting systems: Part One

It seems fitting to begin this series of analyses of alternative voting systems on the day when our half-Dutch Deputy PM has leaked the date of the coalition government’s proposed referendum on replacing the First Past the Post voting system with the Alternative Vote (and is doubtless also celebrating his motherland’s World Cup triumph over Brazil – sob . . .).

That referendum will be on the same day as the elections for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. So while the rest of Great Britain gets to vote for their own national legislatures using a genuinely, if imperfectly, proportional system (AMS), we in England are being offered a referendum that denies us the choice of a genuinely proportional system (which AV is not), let alone a referendum on an English parliament to match the referendums on the Scottish and Welsh parliament and assembly that took place 12 years ago. Well, I guess such a flagrant denial of English people’s democratic rights is only what you can expect from a Eurocrat who refuses to say whether he is English or not.

Most of the systems I’ll be discussing in this series of posts are themselves alternatives to the alternatives to FPTP that have been espoused by the Labour and Lib Dem parties in the run up to May’s general election and, in the case of the Lib Dems, for a long time before it: the Alternative Vote (AV) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV) respectively. However, in this first article, I want to briefly go over the merits, or rather mainly demerits, of the Alternative Vote system. I won’t reiterate the more detailed points I made in my previous discussions on AV (here and here). What I want to do here is set up a series of criteria against which to measure the merits of voting systems; and in this article, I’ll apply those criteria to AV and FPTP.

There is a whole Wikipedia article devoted to discussing some of the technical criteria by which experts on voting systems assess their qualities. However, this is far too abstruse for my purposes, and my criteria are a lot more intuitive. They are as follows:

  • Does every vote count / is every vote counted? On the face of it, that sounds like a rather funny question: of course, every vote counts (matters) and is counted. But that’s not actually the case in all systems. With respect to AV, the ‘majority’ that AV produces in favour of the winning candidate is occasionally dependent on eliminating some people’s votes altogether, i.e. if they haven’t listed one of the candidates surviving in the final count as one of their preferences. It seems rather paradoxical that a system that is supposed to carry more legitimacy than FPTP engineers overall majorities for the winning candidates by disenfranchising some supporters of smaller parties altogether: effectively, ignoring their vote.
  • Is the system proportional? How effective is the system in producing shares of the seats that closely match the shares of the vote obtained by the parties?
  • Does the system foster accountability? In other words, to what degree are the elected representatives directly accountable to a specific, local electorate, as they are for instance in constituency systems as opposed to those involving party lists?
  • Does the voting system allow voters to express the full range of their political and personal preferences? In other words, does the voting system allow voters to send a message to politicians about how they really think on a range of issues, rather than just voting for one party in a way that the parties themselves take as a mandate to carry out their whole policy programme?
  • Does the system mitigate the need to vote tactically? In other words, does it genuinely free people up to vote how they really want?
  • How easy is the system for voters to understand, trust and use effectively? No point in having a mathematically perfect system if voters don’t understand how it works in such a way as to fully take advantage of it.

I’m now going to assess the relative merits of FPTP and AV by awarding points for how well each system performs against each of these criteria: one point being the lowest score and five the highest.

In relation to the first question – does every vote count / is every vote counted? – I’d give FPTP three points and AV only two. Under FPTP, at least every vote is taken into consideration and treated equally, and all votes go into the final count. But those votes often do not count in the other sense, in that votes for all but the two leading parties, or even the only leading party, are usually pointless: they won’t affect the result in any way. AV performs worse in this respect, as I pointed out above, in that some of the votes are actually not included in the final count: first-preference votes for parties eliminated from the final count, in cases where voters have not indicated a lower preference for any of the parties still in the race. In addition, the second or subsequent preferences of people who have voted for one of the top-two parties in the election are not counted at all. That means that the final result is based on counting some non-first preferences but not all. So AV gives the impression that what all voters indicate as their first preference actually matters; but in fact, the end result is rarely different from a FPTP ballot, and votes for smaller parties are just as pointless, if not more so, as under FPTP.

Second question: is the system proportional? In this respect, FPTP is just about the worst system there is and so scores only one point. AV is only marginally better (in some cases, it can be even worse) and so scores two. AV is not a proportional system. The only thing you can say in its favour is that, as AV allows for results that better reflect the consensus of opinion in each constituency, therefore the aggregate result across the different parts of the country is more likely to be consistent with the real level of support that each party enjoys. But this is only so to a very limited degree.

Question 3: does the system foster accountability? Here, I’d give both systems a three. As they are used in single-member constituencies, this makes them quite conducive to accountability in that each MP is directly answerable to the electorate of the local area they represent. On the other hand, both systems lead to disproportionate parliaments and bring about massive majorities for parties that have gained only a minority of the popular vote. In addition, these systems prop up ‘safe seats’ (AV perhaps a bit less so) in which MPs can more or less expect to be re-elected indefinitely. Both of these facts diminish the accountability of MPs to their voters.

Question 4: does the voting system allow voters to express the full range of their views? Here, I’d give FPTP one point and AV two. For a modern democracy and society, FPTP is an extremely blunt instrument and really doesn’t provide much of a means for voters to let politicians know what they really think about them and their policies. Nowadays, people tend to agree with different policies and ideas across party boundaries, but the ability to vote for just one party / candidate does not allow that diversity of opinion to be expressed. Instead, people often, if not mostly, end up voting for a particular candidate as much to keep out another candidate as to endorse the entire manifesto of the party they’re voting for. AV represents a slight improvement, in that it does at least allow people to vote for a candidate who’s almost certain to lose while at the same time casting a second- or lesser-preference vote for the ‘least bad’ candidate that has a chance of winning – you can vote for the parties you genuinely support as well as voting tactically.

High-preference votes for candidates from minor parties are rarely effectual under AV: they rarely alter the end result. However, they do enable voters to send more of a message to politicians. For example, had the recent election been held using the AV system, I would have indicated UKIP as my first preference and the Lib Dems second: UKIP to let politicians know I am angry we were denied a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and on EU membership; but Lib Dems as the best means (I thought at the time) to bring about constitutional and electoral reform, and because only they had a chance of beating the Tory. In the event, under FPTP, I just had to vote Lib Dems: a tactical vote, rather than adding my voice to those of millions who might have put UKIP down as one of their preferences if they’d had the choice.

Which brings me to the fifth question: does the voting system mitigate the need for tactical voting? FPTP scores only one point here, as it quintessentially encourages tactical voting amid effective two-party politics: Labour or Tory in the Midlands, North of England and Scotland; Lib Dem or Tory in southern England. Wales is a bit more of a patchwork outside the industrial and urban centres of the south. AV gains only one extra point here (i.e. two in total), as you still end up having to vote tactically under AV, even if the tactical vote is listed last in the order of preference you’ve indicated on your ballot sheet.

Finally, how easy is the system for voters to understand and use to best advantage? FPTP: three points – it’s extremely easy to understand and use, but at the same time, it doesn’t empower voters, and they very often end up feeling cheated or that they’ve wasted their vote. AV is less transparent than FPTP, so I’d give it only two points here. Voters could think that all of the preferences they indicate in an AV vote will be taken into consideration and be reflected in some way in the final result. For instance, they might think that ranking the candidates was equivalent to giving them a certain number of points (rather along the lines of the Eurovision Song Contest) and that first-preference votes carried more weight than last preferences. In reality, they don’t: if you vote for a minor party as your first choice, that vote will eventually be discarded; and if your lesser-preference votes are reassigned to the surviving candidates, these are going to carry as much weight as your first preference whether you want that to be the case or not.

Here is a table summarising the points I’m awarding to First Past the Post and AV against my criteria:

Criterion FPTP AV
Does every vote count?



Is the system proportional?



Does the system foster accountability?



Does the system let voters express all their views?



Does the system mitigate tactical voting?



How user-friendly is the system?



Total scored out of a maximum of 30



Conclusion: AV is a marginal improvement on FPTP – but only extremely marginal, and they’re both pretty rubbish.

I’ll be adding alternative alternative systems to this analysis, and this table, in subsequent posts. Next time: Approval Voting.

The Liberal-Democrat Accession and the English Parliament

You should always be careful what you wish for and be wary of the law of unintended consequences. Although I will probably be voting Lib Dem this time round – unless my Tory MP astounds me by previously unsuspected support for an English parliament – a Lib-Dem break-through could have far-reaching ramifications for the prospects and nature of any future English parliament.

For a start, as they made clear yesterday, the Lib Dems will make their support for a minority Labour- or Conservative-led government conditional on introducing proportional representation. One imagines this would involve a referendum on changing to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system for UK-parliamentary elections.

Many supporters of PR see it as a way to mitigate (i.e. ignore) the West Lothian Question. The logic behind this position is simple, though flawed in my view. For example, under STV, if the actual vote on 6 May exactly followed yesterday’s ICM opinion-poll ratings (Con 33%, Lib Dem 30% and Lab 28%), then the Conservatives would be the largest party both in England and the UK as a whole; and in any coalition of the parties to form a government, the UK majority thus constituted would also be consistent with the parties’ shares of seats in England. Therefore, on one level, it would no longer matter if non-English MPs voted on English laws, as the same laws would be passed if only English MPs voted.

On the other hand, the reverse logic could also apply: if the votes of non-English MPs were no longer needed to pass English bills, why let them vote at all? The only real justification for non-English MPs voting on English legislation presently is when there is a link to spending in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland via the Barnett Formula. But presumably, the days of that formula itself might well be numbered under a Con-LibDem coalition, as the Lib Dems favour scrapping it and even the Tories talk in their manifesto of greater fiscal autonomy for Scotland.

Indeed, in a proportionally elected House of Commons, the situation of non-English MPs voting on English laws would come to appear blatantly, if not scandalously, anomalous. Under First Past the Post, by contrast, the fact that Labour’s Scottish MPs have occasionally been required to pass the government’s England-only legislation against the will of a majority of English MPs did not on one level seem that outrageous in that the government majority procured in this way was no more disproportionate than the normal majority of English MPs only it would expect to command, as both majorities were merely the product of the absurd FPTP electoral system rather than of the way English people actually voted at the 2005 general election.

In other words, in a situation in which voting majorities in the Commons bear little relation to the way the public actually voted at the election, the misuse of non-English MPs to inflate those majorities even further does not stand out too obviously. By contrast, in a proportionally elected House where the parties’ shares of the seats are meant to reflect the way people voted, and where MPs are meant to be more accountable to their electorates, distorting those shares by allowing MPs not accountable to the people affected by bills to vote on them would be completely inconsistent and unacceptable.

Accordingly, I tend to think that, rather than mitigating the WLQ, PR would render it inoperable. But then if you do not allow non-English MPs to make England’s laws, what arrangements would be made for that little matter of how to govern England? Do you go down the route of an English Grand Committee: English laws debated and voted on by separate sessions of English MPs only? Do you draw the logical conclusion and say that Parliament needs to evolve into an English parliament to deal with English matters, with a separate set of representatives elected from across the UK to deal with reserved matters? Or do you just try to ignore the problem by pretending that England does not exist and that the West Lothian Question simply does not arise, let alone require a solution – the Labour government’s approach?

In this way, by insisting on introducing PR before dealing with the English Question, the Lib Dems might find that question comes and bites them in the bum: they could create a constitutional mess in which the very legitimacy and function of the parliament for which they had finally secured PR was called into question – a British parliament without a valid democratic role and status in most of what it did, i.e. in English matters.

To be fair to the Lib Dems, their manifesto does state that they want to hold a citizens’ convention to help draw up a written constitution, and the English Question would be dealt with as part of this process. But the Lib Dems are not going to be in a position to carry out this commitment in full as part of a coalition government. All they’ve actually said is that they’d make electoral reform a minimal precondition of any deal to support a minority government, not the whole constitutional-reform programme; and neither Labour nor the Tories have any appetite to address the English Question. But as I say, the English Question may impose itself as unavoidable if the Lib Dems do succeed in introducing STV.

There are two possible scenarios that follow on logically from this. Firstly, if the Lib Dems do secure STV (and if, as I argue, this would lead to an urgent need to address the English Question because of the crisis of governance it would bring about), then any English parliament would also be based on STV. Having gone to the trouble and expense of introducing STV, which would require the re-drawing of constituency boundaries and the amalgamation of constituencies into multi-member seats, there is no way the English parliament could then revert to the pre-STV single member-constituency system. Having finally achieved their goal of a proper proportional system, the Lib Dems would never accept an inferior system for England; nor – I think – would the English people.

However – scenario two – what if the British public did not endorse STV in the initial referendum required to adopt it as the system for UK elections? For instance, Gordon Brown favours the Alternative Vote (AV) single-member system, and if the Lib Dems’ referendum were held under a putative Lab-LibDem coalition, it could be a multi-option referendum with AV as one of the systems on offer. Labour could be expected to argue strongly for AV, which is in reality merely a mitigated form of FPTP and would preserve the unfair advantage the present system gives to the party. Who knows, voters might prefer to retain single-member constituencies and the winner-takes-all aspect of the present system, albeit in a slightly fairer form. Under this second scenario, the West Lothian Question could remain in place for much longer, as AV would perpetuate the disproportionality of the present system from which the very ability of Labour to form any kind of government depends and which also disguises the outrageously unfair extra advantage Labour obtains from the WLQ.

In this context, the Lib Dems could find themselves in the unenviable position of propping up an unfairly elected Labour government that exploits its stronger base of support in Scotland and Wales to secure its power in England. Would it not then be both more effective tactically, and give greater moral credibility to their demands for constitutional reform, if the Lib Dems declared now – ahead of 6 May – that they would not exploit the West Lothian Question in the new parliament, even if to do so were the only way in which a coalition of which they were a part could actually form a working majority?

After all, how can the English people believe in the Lib Dems’ advocacy of greater democratic fairness and proportional representation if they are in theory willing to exploit one of the most egregiously unfair and disproportional aspects of the present system simply to have a share in government? If they want England to back them on 6 May and support STV in a referendum, then surely they should back ‘building a fairer Britain’ in the forthcoming parliament, too – including fairness for England.

The SNP would break its self-denying ordinance and support a minority Labour government

I’ve just been listening to an interview with SNP leader Alex Salmond on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme. Towards the end of the interview, Eddie Mayer asked Salmond if the SNP would be prepared to break the self-denying ordinance it has hitherto observed in parliamentary votes on what Mayer called ‘devolved’ matters and what Salmond rightly insisted on calling ‘English-only matters’.

The context of the question was the SNP’s election-campaign claims that they would use their influence in a hung parliament to defend Scotland’s interests, in particular to shield Scotland from the severity of the budget cuts that those of us living south of the border are going to have to endure. How could they exercise that influence if they refused to support the party of government in England-only votes?

Salmond stated that he wanted to keep the option of voting on English matters ‘up his sleeve’ as one of the trump cards he might need to play to secure the SNP’s objectives. In other words, the SNP would be prepared to vote on English matters in some circumstances.

Mayer then set the example of a minority Conservative government needing the SNP’s support in a vote on an (English) education bill. Salmond suggested that the example was unrealistic, as the SNP would be more likely to support a more ‘progressive’ policy agenda than one of Tory cuts to public services. This is a round-about way of saying that the SNP would prop up only a Labour minority government or Lab-LibDem coalition, not a Tory government or, one assumes, a possible Con-LibDem partnership.

In other words, if Gordon Brown wants to cling on to power after the election – whether Labour wins the largest or second-largest number of seats – his best bet might be to forge a deal with his SNP compatriots and, of course, Labour’s Plaid Cymru Welsh-Assembly coalition partners.

Come to think of it, it’s rather obvious that Salmond could not get away with suggesting he might do a deal with the Conservatives at Westminster, as the SNP has tried to position the Tories as an anti-progressive force intent on savaging Scottish public services. Salmond is therefore indirectly encouraging Scottish voters to vote Labour in seats where the SNP can’t win in order to ensure a sufficiently large ‘Scottish block’ of ‘progressive’ votes in the new parliament that can override the Tory-LibDem majority in England.

The West Lothian Question could be more alive and embittered than ever in the new parliament – which of course also suits Mr Salmond’s agenda just fine.

Vote for England and St. George?

That’ll teach them not to officially fly the flag of St. George atop our dual-purpose English and British parliament! Serves them right – although, apparently, the police stopped the Power 2010 activists from projecting this giant Cross of St. George onto the Palace of Westminster after only about two minutes, no doubt on some spurious counter-terrorist or public-order grounds. British police state!

The Power 2010 campaign, which was, to say the least, a reluctant convert to the cause of English votes on English laws at the time of their online poll to determine the most popular ideas for constitutional reform, which culminated in February, is now urging people to write to their parliamentary candidates to ask them for their views on the English Question. Good for them, and great idea to project the flag and create this image!

There’s no doubt that if all English people who support an English parliament – 68% according to an ICM poll commissioned by Power 2010, due to be published today – could back just one party in support of that aim, then that party would romp to victory at the general election and reclaim Westminster as the English parliament. But in practice, the idea of voting for a pro-EP candidate puts me in something of a quandary. I devoted my last post here to promoting the idea behind the Hang ‘Em campaign, which seeks to mobilise voters to back the candidate most likely to advance the cause of a reforming parliament, principally by achieving a hung parliament. In accordance with that objective, I’ve decided to vote Lib Dem, as their candidate in my constituency is the only one who could possibly defeat the existing Tory MP, thereby furthering the goal of a hung parliament. But should I switch my vote over to the Tory if he turns out to support an English parliament?

I’m definitely going to take the opportunity to ask him and should have done so when I bumped into him in a local street canvassing last week (!); but I’m not sure he or one of his campaign team are going to have time to reply before 6 May now – talk of doing too little, too late, myself included in the criticism! In any case, I think it’s highly unlikely he would support such a radical constitutional innovation, as he never seems to deviate in any way from official Conservative policy, which doesn’t even propose a workable solution to the West Lothian Question, let alone address the English Question. But what if he does turn out to support an EP?

Well, there’s no point voting for a candidate who favours an English parliament who, if elected, wouldn’t do anything to advance that cause. But I’ll ask him whether he would do anything about it, if he does support an EP, and give him the chance to set out his views. I’ll let you know what answer I get to my question, if any. But my default position remains that the best way to promote the goal of an English parliament is to vote for a hung British parliament; and, in any case, voting Lib Dem is entirely consistent with both objectives, as they at least say in their manifesto that the English Question needs to be dealt with as part of an overall British constitutional convention.

So I still say ‘vote hung parliament’ until the Cross of St. George hangs from an English parliament!

Have a good one, by the way.