Alex Massie

Clegg Gets Labour to Drive His Party to the Tories

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There's one thing that may be said of Nick Clegg's willingness to talk to Labour: it allowed Labour to show Liberal Democrat MPs that a deal with the Tories is the only show in town worth buying a ticket for.

Once Labour MPs vowed to derail any plan to force through voting reform without a referendum and once John Reid, David Blunkett and Andy Burnham pointed out the absurdity of a "Loser's Alliance" that, however constitutionally permissable, would mock the actual, you know, result of the election then even the most sawdust-brained Liberal Democrat MP could appreciate that this bird wouldn't fly.

That leaves a proper deal with the Tories the only sensible option - an outcome that I suspect was Clegg's preference all along. But he may now have been able to sell the idea to his party without having to make it a confidence motion in his own leadership or having to issue an ultimatum to his party. That leaves Clegg in a stronger position internally.

And, of course, by flirting with Labour Clegg was able to persuade the Tories to increase their offer on voting reform even though it became clear that Labour couldn't possibly give Clegg any real assurances on voting reform themselves. This too makes it easier for Clegg internally.

So while the public may not have been impressed by the shenanigans of the past 24 hours Clegg's manoevering has had a certain logic now that it seems that a deal can be concluded today. Had matters dragged on until the end of the week things might be different but the deal seems to be coming quickly enough to save Clegg from too much public wrath.

At least that will be the case if the new government can last three or four years. Another poll in six to 12 months might be a different matter.

The Lib Dem membership may not like it but they'll have to lump it.

And, um, yes, that means that if this is right then quite a lot of this post, er, has to be wrong.