Alex Massie

Is Nick Clegg really Robert Redford?

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And not in a Cleggover* or Rentoul-bait sense either. No, you remember The Candidate? Of course you do for you enjoy political movies as much as we do. Which means you'll also remember the movie's strapline: Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn't have a chance. He's PERFECT!

And you'll also recall the movie's final line, delivered after Redford's character wins an unlikely victory:

What do we do now?

Again and at the risk of repeating myself, how can Clegg be the "Agent of Change" if, once the election hurly-burly is done with he pivots to support a minority Labour ministry? That doesn't add up even if Labour holds the most seats, far less if, as seems bewilderingly possible, Labour actually come third in terms of votes.

Which means, again, that I think the Tories need to have a quiet channel open to the Lib Dems exploring, unofficially and deniably of course, the prospects for a Tory-Liberal deal. And yes that may mean putting electoral reform on the table.

But if the election does produce a result in which the parties share the votes on a more or less even basis but the share of seats is 260-250-100 then voting reform is going to have some wind behind it anyway. And I think, even allowing for protestations that this is a "freak" or "once in a century" result it will be hard to deny that there are decent grounds for putting electoral reform to the people in a referendum.

All the momentum, for now anyway, is behind redefining legitimacy anyway. Votes not seats matter and this too is a feature of the TV debates that have helped confirm the existing trend towards the personalisation and presidentialisation of British elections. This, again, is where we are and you'll have a tough time rewinding the clock to a time when this was not the case. And if credibility rests on votes not seats then here too the case for asking the Voting Question is strengthened while also making it harder for the Lib Dems to support a Labour party that failed to win the popular vote.

Who knows, perhaps the public would endorse FPTP anyway. No system is perfect and all have their drawbacks but our current way of doing things only really works when there are only two pretenders. Certainly as things stand we haven't seen this level of uncertainty and confusion since the early 1920s.

Clearly Clegg doesn't want to - and probably won't - answer the Great Legitimacy Question until after the polls have closed and all that remains is the important task of stabbing the wounded. But at some point he will have to answer it: Votes or Seats? And if the Tories come top in both then why can't he do a deal with them?

Either way, the What do we do now? question is going to become a ticklish problem for

the Great Redeemer

Clegg.

*For American readers: this refers to a magazine profile in which Clegg boasted of or admitted to bedding at least 30 women.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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