In the Sunday Times, Nick Clegg makes clear he would not prop up Gordon Brown if Labour got a low vote share but still got the most seats...
The Liberal Democrat leader is ready to tear up the rulebook and oust the prime minister if there is no decisive result on May 6. In a Sunday Times interview he warned that Brown’s position would be untenable if Labour got a low share of the popular vote but still ended up as the biggest party in the Commons.
“I think it’s a complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system,” Clegg said.
So far so good. He then says this...
The Lib Dem leader revealed that he would support the Tories if they won the largest number of seats and largest share of the votes. This would defy the constitutional convention which would give Brown first call on attempting to form a government.
“I tie my hands in the following sense: that the party that has more votes and seats, but doesn’t get an absolute majority — I support them,” Clegg said.
That seems to me to be a reasonable position. But would that extend to actually forming a coalition? According to Paddy Ashdown, no. In The People, he says that Clegg would not go into a coalition with the Conservatives. "It wouldn't work." This is interesting because Ashdown has been craeful to stay in the background in recent years and hasn't been very active in LibDem politics. It's a warning shot to Clegg.
But I wonder if the LibDems are in danger of overreaching themselves. This paragraph in the Sunday Times article stuck out like a sore thumb to me...
Senior Lib Dem sources have revealed that if the party secures a high share of the vote in the election, it will demand equal status in any coalition. Regardless of the number of seats it wins, it will open negotiations with a demand for half the seats in cabinet. “If more and more people support the Liberal Democrats, clearly that gives us a really powerful legitimacy to push for the things we want,” Clegg said.Really? Clegg will have to deal with the parliamentary system we have, not the one he might like. I can see no way that Cameron would concede half the seats in a Cabinet to a party which might have only a fifth of the number of seats the Conservatives would have.
If there is not an overall Tory majority, the most likely outcome seems to be that Cameron would have to govern as a minority administration.
Senior Tory insiders say that if Cameron is in a strong position in a hung parliament on May 7, he will ask Clegg to support him on a “confidence and supply” basis — meaning the Lib Dems would back his Queen’s speech and support him in votes of confidence, but retain their independence to vote against legislation.That would almost guarantee a second election before the end of the year.
Of course all this talk about coalitions leads to increased chatter about whether the Conservatives could support any change to the electoral system in order to lure the LibDems into a coalition.
I'll be writing further about that over the next 48 hours.