Welcome along to a third successive post about the referendum on electoral reform, as I continue with my determined quest to drive the audience of this blog down to zero.
Channel 4 are in principle to be congratulated for turning their "Fact-Check" attention to the claims and counter-claims about AV, because the astounding ignorance about the nature of the proposed new voting system has provided fertile ground for the sprouting up of a number of...well, for want of a better word, lies. In practice, however, this rather limited attempt to "set the record straight" ought to raise a few eyebrows itself -
"Was Mr Cameron right to say Gordon Brown could still be Prime Minister if the last election had been fought under AV?...
Labour and the Lib Dems would have had 337 seats between them, giving them an overall majority, and in theory allowing Mr Brown to remain Prime Minister in a coalition government. But the Conservatives would have been the largest party, on 283 seats (35 more than Labour), and there would have been constitutional uproar if Mr Brown had stayed at No 10."
It might have caused 'uproar' in some quarters, but there certainly wouldn't have been anything 'constitutional' about that. If no single party wins over 50% of seats, the objective is to form a government which can command a parliamentary majority. In countries with PR where hung parliaments and coalitions are the norm (which categorically would not be the case under AV) there's nothing remotely unusual or 'unconstitutional' about the government which emerges being one which excludes the largest party. Perhaps Channel 4's assumption is that there's something peculiarly 'British' about the conviction that the largest party has an automatic mandate to govern regardless of how far short they fall of a majority. If so, wrong again. In 1924, Ramsay MacDonald's Labour party took office with the support of the Liberals - in spite of the fact that the Conservatives had won the most votes and the most seats in the general election.
My own view about last year, for what it's worth, is that there would indeed have been a somewhat greater chance of a 'progressive alliance' had Labour and the Lib Dems enjoyed an outright Commons majority between them, if only because the Lib Dem grandees were so sympathetic to the idea, and because it would have been harder for the right-wing party leadership of Clegg and Laws to go in the opposite direction if they hadn't had the ready-made (albeit bogus) excuse that "the numbers simply aren't there". There probably would have been somewhat less fatalism on the Labour benches as well. Such an outcome would, for the avoidance of doubt, have been a good thing. While we in Scotland require no reminders about the shortcomings of Lib-Lab rule, if it had been a straight choice between that and the current monstrosity of a coalition at Westminster, I know which I would have regarded (and did regard) as the lesser of two evils. And of course a progressive coalition would have commanded the combined support of more than 50% of the electorate in exactly the same way as the Con-Lib alliance does, so concerns about democratic legitimacy are a red herring.
Nevertheless, it's overwhelmingly likely that the Lib Dems would have demanded - as they did anyway - that Gordon Brown as an individual fall on his sword as the price of any deal, so in that very technical sense Channel 4 have a point. But pretty much everything else they say on the subject (clearly implying that no government excluding the Tories would have been a runner) falls into the category of speculation, and of the rather implausible variety at that. What it's doing in a "Fact-Check" feature is a bit of a mystery.