In Depth

Is Clegg tempted to side with Miliband in new coalition?

Lib Dems would lend ‘legitimacy’ because Labour would not be dependent wholly on SNP

The Mole

‘Legitimacy’ is suddenly the buzz word of the campaign. With Thursday's election destined to bring a hung parliament, Ed Miliband is reported by the Daily Telegraph to be “plotting" to make a grab for power even if Labour do not have the largest number of seats.

Team Miliband, the paper says, “are trying to woo” Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems to join a coalition with Labour in order to stop David Cameron holding on to power - even if the Tories win more seats than Labour on Thursday. 

The argument is that the Lib Dems would avoid Miliband having to depend wholly on Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP MPs at Westminster and lend “legitimacy” to a Miliband minority government.

Cameron – and the Telegraph – have smelled a rat: rather than entering into another Lib-Con coalition, and lending a Cameron minority government ‘legitimacy’, Clegg might be tempted to side with Labour. 

Certainly Clegg did little to calm Tory fears when he appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. 

John Humphrys put the simple question to Clegg - would he support the Conservatives if they had the most seats? Clegg floundered:

“The party that gets most votes and most seats - in other words the party that gets the biggest mandate from the British people even though it doesn’t have a slam-dunk majority – [it] seems to me right to give that party the space and the time to form a government…”

Humphrys accused the Lib Dem leader of “swithering”. Clegg knows he didn’t answer the question: it’s very possible one party will get the largest number of seats, while the other gets the most votes. 

Neither did he address the little matter of his having to ask his party members who the Lib Dems should go into coalition with, if anyone. 

The truth is, the advantages of throwing his hand in with Miliband are huge. Miliband might be way to the Left of the Lib Dem leader – The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee says approvingly that Miliband’s "aim is to restore the postwar, pre-Thatcher consensus: an adequate welfare state, more house building, decent work and a robust NHS” - but by supporting Miliband, Clegg could wipe out the stain on the party of backing Tory cuts over the past five years, making the party more electable for the next general election.

Cameron will be putting Clegg under intense pressure over the next few days not to stab him in the back. 

The irony is that the latest polling shows Clegg now looks set to keep his Sheffield Hallam seat because of tactical voting by Tory voters. Cameron might come to wish the Tories in Hallam had voted Labour.

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