The Liberal Democrats are bumping around in 8-14 poll range, which seems to be a source of great bitterness for Lib Dem members. I’m not that surprised at the poll rating. Having been to Lib Dem conferences back in the day, I was always struck (as an outsider) by how many people seemed to me to be there because the party wasn’t Labour or the Tories. Now, in the cold light of governing reality, those soft “why can’t we be nice to everybody?” types have left, or defected to the party that, eh, invaded Iraq.
The remaining vote, bobbing around 10%, seems about right, the sort of vote liberal parties elsewhere in Europe get. The problem, however, is that whilst that is all fine and dandy under a PR system, it’s lethal under FPTP.
What that means is that the Lib Dems cannot enter another coalition without a commitment to legislate for some form of PR. Without it, a second term will kill them.
Now, the idea of getting PR may not be as fantastic as some think. For a start, it’s true that the Tories and Labour will just not concede on full PR. However, imagine a scenario where UKIP wins, say, 15% of the vote, more than the Lib Dems, and ends up with no seats? To bloke in pub this becomes an issue of fairness. Surely a party that gets more votes than another party should get seats? It’s the sort of scenario that Cameron and Milliband would be weary of just dismissing as a political anorak issue.
At that point, it would not be unreasonable for the Lib Dems to argue for a national list of say, 150 MPs, elected completely separately from the FPTP constituencies. By electing them separately, it means that most MPs on the list would still be Tory or Labour, but it would also guarantee Lib Dems and UKIP a cushion of seats. It’s not ideal, but it would be progress, and more importantly, it is not impossible to imagine Tory and Labour MPs voting for such a scheme either. After all, it would create a batch of super-safe Tory and Labour list seats.