For surely it is the logic of first-past-the-post which makes that majoritarian argument that it is having more votes than any other single party which confers the legitimacy to govern. That is a majoritarian argument. Citing the number of seats delivered by an electoral system the LibDems decry makes little sense either.
Clegg is a supporter of PR. Yet the logic of proportional representation would contest his argument and counter thus:
If no one party has majority, negotiations should take place so as to form a broad-based government, ideally one backed by parties who have the support of a majority of the voters.
Such a challenge to Clegg's doctrine of the mandate is offered by 'Hobhouse' at Liberal Conspiracy.
Right now Labour and the Lib Dems together have over 52% of the popular vote. Add in Greens, the Irish SDLP and Alliance and the Progressive Majority has nearer 54% of the vote. That’s without even counting nationalists!
Only 36% of people voted for the Tories. Just two-thirds of the progressive vote.
There is a progressive majority in this country today.
Our collapsing electoral system may have failed to fully reflect it. And that’s a crisis.
But for every two people who voted Tory, three of us voted progressive.
We have the mandate. Not them.
Let’s get building bridges.
There are cogent arguments for and against both the majoritarian and proportional propositions. (Roy Jenkins attempted to fuse them together in his hybrid AV+ voting system). But any supporter of PR might think the latter should prevail.
There is merit in the LibDems saying that the first opportunity to negotiate ought to go to the Conservatives. A substantive Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, alliance or understanding would certainly fulfil the PR criteria - but that would also mean being able to negotiate elsewhere too.
But there is no PR logic to regarding the outcome as a foregone conclusion, which would continue to hold even if the largest party was absolutely set on governing alone, and so refused to negotiate and make serious concesssions - such as being willing to offer a referendum on electoral reform.
The LibDem argument is that they could not combine in power with a party which went into an election with a majority and lost it. And Nick Clegg may feel he has some protection in the Labour and Liberal Democrat total number of seats not reaching 326. Yet, even in that scenario, the content and logic of Clegg's majoritarian argument suggests the LibDems would have made the same choice - and so put the Conservatives in to government when another Parliamentary majority (with more than half of the seats and more than half of the votes) was viable.
There could well be a political price to pay for that. The Liberal Democrats have been enthusiastically supported for the first time by many influential public voices - including newspapers such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent and the Independent on Sunday - on the grounds that support for the party both promotes the cause of fair votes and forms part of a strategic alliance which would, by giving the LibDems the balance of power, help to keep the Conservatives out.
That advocacy and support would certainly be complicated, and perhaps derailed by a decision - active or passive - to facilitate the appointment of a Conservative-led government, even if it is not the only possible or plausible outcome.