Paddy Ashdown intervenes in hung parliament debate

By Alex Stevenson

Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has jumped into the hung parliament debate by rejecting claims an indecisive outcome to the general election would be bad for the country.

“Is a hung parliament a disaster for Britain? Absolutely not,” he told in an exclusive interview.

Senior Labour and Conservative politicians have sought to address the recent surge in the polls for Britain’s third party by arguing a hung parliament would undermine Britain’s AAA credit rating.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has talked of a “balanced” parliament in a bid to make the prospect of a Commons without any party holding an overall majority more attractive. He has shied away from directly addressing the issue, however.

Now Lord Ashdown, who led the Liberal Democrats from 1988 to 1999, has addressed Gordon Brown and David Cameron’s concerns head on.

“Take a lot at the top eight OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] countries – seven of them have coalition partnership governments and they’ve done the most effective responses to the economic crisis,” he said.

Greece, which is expected to announce its decision on receiving assistance from the IMF in the next two weeks, is a majoritarian government, Lord Ashdown pointed out.

He said he did not believe the markets would crash in the event of a hung parliament, saying they had “already discounted for that possibility”, before adding: “I think the British people may be wise to say we don’t want any of you to govern, we want you to work together.

“I think you can count on the Liberal Democrats to do two things: to work responsibility in the national interest and secondly to pursue those policies on which we stood for election and for which people voted on.”

Lord Ashdown admitted that Mr Clegg could face a difficult decision if the polls as they stand at present are translated into seats in the Commons.

Labour could come third in the popular but still emerge as the largest party in a hung parliament, making it unclear as to which party “has the biggest mandate”.

“Nick [Clegg] had said it’ll be judged by the number of MPs – I don’t think that’s the largest – so you have to make a difficult judgement,” he said.

He added Mr Clegg’s decision “may be a contentious one, of course”.

After the 1997 general election Lord Ashdown was keen to explore the possibility of working within Tony Blair’s Cabinet, but was disappointed when New Labour’s huge majority made such collaboration unnecessary.

He dismissed the suggestion that Mr Clegg should do the same now, however, saying “successful” Liberal leaders had to “play this hand” according to the circumstances in front of them.

“My view is Nick is absolutely right,” he said. “I think his formulation which says we are not the kingmakers, the people are, is a brilliant formulation.”