Olly Grender, PLMR: There's no stomach for uncertainty

Myths about a hung parliament abound. But this much is true: we Brits don't have the DNA for it.

What an awful lot of guff is written about hung parliaments. Never before in the history of trees and production of paper has so much been wasted for so little outcome.

So why am I adding to that pile? Well, let's just say that if I had those moments of my life back when I sat in pointless meetings discussing hung parliament scenarios, you would discover a sprightly 21-year-old. An exaggeration? Perhaps, but only a small one.

So let's get a little more realistic, please, about the likely outcomes, the implications for our agencies and the implications for our clients.

The number one myth is the maths itself.

The suggestion that it is possible to vote for a hung parliament.

Remember that laughable moment when Clare Short said she was going to campaign for one? It simply cannot work like that. You cannot vote for the Liberal Democrats in the hope it will result in a hung parliament; it depends on the seat and the change of seats for Labour and Conservative. It also depends on how the 'others' (UKIP, independents, BNP) do.

There is no single way of voting to make this happen.

Myth number two is that there is an appetite in the UK for uncertainty.

No way.

While it would be a good thing for the public affairs industry, it is something that is simply not in the DNA of the British. Fear of uncertainty drove large quantities of voters to abandon the Lib Dems in the final week of the general election in 1992. Most polling suggests that the British people fear hung parliaments.

The greatest myth of all is that this is 'good news' for the Lib Dems. Not so. It places the leader in a position of supporting a deeply unpopular departing Prime Minister or a leader of the opposition who has yet to convince.

A rock and a hard place would be a world of comfort in comparison.

While we are on difficult terrain, whichever is the largest party can simply hold another general election. Because there is no fixed term and no proportional electoral system, there is in turn no expectation - as there was with Alex Salmond in Scotland or Angela Merkel in Germany - to talk to others and make it work.

In the days immediately after the general election, the scale of media operation required by the Lib Dems would be significant. They would have to overcome the innate prejudices that would be pitted against them for being part of an uncertain outcome.

It is a media operation that would be the stuff of Alastair Campbell's wildest fantasies.

It doesn't exist in any political party.

All this might be against the backdrop of a minority government led by David Cameron using Lib Dem-friendly policies and defying the Lib Dems to vote against it.

During the campaign there is also a danger that the seduction of hung parliament talk causes the Lib Dems to take their eye off the ball.

Nick Clegg has wisely shown little interest in this issue.

Finally, the reaction in the City to any suggestion of a hung parliament will be significant. Morgan Stanley has said: 'Growing fears of a hung parliament would likely weigh on both the currency and gilt yields as it would represent something of a leap into the unknown, and would increase the probability that some of the rating agencies remove the UK's AAA status.'

The dangers of a run on sterling and the resulting threat to the fragile economic recovery will be played up heavily by Conservatives to counter any 'danger' of a hung parliament.

I could be wrong. The Lib Dems may still become power brokers and plenty of people will need advice in that case - so perhaps it is a win-win after all.


- Who are your five fantasy dinner party guests from the political world?

The Sun associate editor Trevor Kavanagh, Alastair Campbell, Michael Portillo, Shirley Williams, and The Thick of It writer Armando Iannucci.

- Predict one thing that will happen in the week running up to the election.

David Miliband will declare an interest in the leadership of the Labour Party, change his mind, say something bland, change his mind again.

- A hung parliament: good or bad news for public affairs?

Great for a while, because it will lack clarity - and that is when political geeks like us are very useful.

Olly Grender is associate director,PLMR, and a former director of communications for the Liberal Democrats

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