The journalists vs politicians hung parliament game

If there's one thing that's starting to annoy me in this election build-up, it's the constant speculation over who-would-do-what if there's a hung parliament. If you watch the press conferences of any of the three main political parties, you'll see journalist after journalist asking more-or-less the same question (phrased in different ways), and yet each time they get the same vague or evasive answer. It's a pointless game, and I'd rather it stopped.

For the Lib Dems (who are the party most likely to hold the balance of power in a hung parliament), there's clearly a massive disadvantage in declaring which party they'd favour: namely that it might discourage anyone who didn't like that party from voting for them. Given that anyone considering voting Lib Dem by definition doesn't like either of the other two parties as much, that could be a lot of people. There's also the additional point that if they declared their support for one party over another, for the rest of the campaign they'd face questions on the reasons for this decision, rather than on the intrinsic policy reasons of why people might or might not vote Lib Dem. Not that policies are getting a huge amount of scrutiny as it is.

The journalists must realise all of this, of course. They know too that they won't get a straight answer, no matter how many times they ask the question. Yet they persist, I think, for two reasons. Firstly, they want to be seen to be asking the question - preferably as clever a way as possible. Ostensibly, this is because 'their readers want to know', but I suspect that it's as much about a game of one-upmanship amongst themselves, given the slim chances of being able to give their readers an actual answer. The second reason for continuously asking the question is in the hope of getting a half-answer, or a clue, or the most wispiest of hints, which can then be wildly over-interpreted and turned into a headline which in turn will generate attention and/or newspaper sales. There are plenty of examples of this already, with opposite conclusions:

Guardian: Nick Clegg goes public on coalition – and looks to the Conservatives. Times: Nick Clegg bids for No 10 as price for Labour pact

This is the kind of ridiculous situation we find ourselves in. And when you've got such a stalemate, the best thing is to simply acknowledge it as such and move on, rather than digging in for a long and pointless war of attrition. The Lib Dems should be allowed to conceal their preference (or to genuinely defer their judgement until after the election), and the journalists should get on with asking more important questions that they might get an answer to.

Sadly, I think this is unlikely to happen.

For the record, I won't be voting for the Lib Dems in the election, but not because I'm adverse to the idea of a hung parliament. I also certainly won't be voting Tory.