It has been a desperately disappointing night for the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg. For all the hype, Clegg-mania has not led to Vince become InVinceable, and the total number of Lib Dem seats looks set to drop, even, one may add, as the share of the popular vote has risen. Yet despite the gloom, I am less depressed than I was when I went to bed at around 2.30, when the Conservatives looked to have a swing from Labour of around 9%. This would have given Cameron’s Tories an overall majority in Parliament. As is, the swing is more like 5%.
Time for… some numbers: with 607 of 650 seats declared, the Conservatives are on 288 (+93), Labour are on 241 (-86), and the Lib Dems 51 (-6). What does this mean?
It means that the Lib Dems have 8.4% of the seats in Parliament, yet 23% of the popular vote (I must emphasise that these numbers are not final). By all rights, the Lib Dems should have three times as many seats as they do if the democratic process was directly proportional.
And this is why the night doesn’t have to be a bad one for Nick Clegg. Britain is heading for a hung parliament. A Lib-Lab Pact could run the country, and through this Clegg could push through voting reform to institute proportional representation. If this happened, his promise of doubling the number of Lib Dem seats, the platform on which he was elected leader, could well become a reality. More importantly, this would forever change the political landscape of the United Kingdom: a genuine three-party system would emerge.
So, despite appearances, the night could have gone far worse. The key now is the backroom trading that will either result in the aforementioned Lib-Lab pact, or a minority Tory government. Let’s hope its the former, not the latter.