A sympathetic interview with Nick Clegg in the Telegraph today (by Mary Riddell, natch), in which the Lib Dem leader comes off quite well. The key, quote, though, is the following: “If voters decide no party deserves an overall majority, then of course you’re going to have to start thinking how we could run a stable government for the British people.” (Though, look too, at the components of his ‘fairness agenda’ – which party, Labour or Conservative, would find it easier to sign up to all those measures?) Clegg has done his best until now to avoid the prospect of a hung parliament and stick to the idea of the Liberal Democrats as a proper party of government; this is his first side-step into accepting his own and his party’s potential future role.
Andrew Sparrow had some encouraging words for Tory strategists this week, and opinion polls are of course a tricky set of tea leaves – the election will be won in a handful of seats which national surveys do not necessarily best reflect. But Clegg’s sudden openness to talk of a hung parliament still makes sense. I linked last week to that Telegraph piece about Tory backslides, and, though the Political Betting Index put four seats back into the Tory column yesterday, the last seven days have seen little forward momentum given to the Tories. This despite prolonged economic woes, the Iraq inquiry, and MPs’ expenses (which may, to be fair, have a plague on both houses effect – but can no hay be made of Messrs Morley, Chaytor and Devine?).
Both Andrew Grice and Nicholas Watt analyse these Tory stutterings today, and Grice in particular emphasises the party’s lack of experience as the principal cause of their current travails. Both writers single out the dismal 0.1% growth rate as a spanner in the Tory works – this margin-of-error growth prevents them from making the full-blooded cuts arguments they were planning on using to contrast themselves with mealy-mouthed Labourites. One might also say, from a Labour perspective, that the figure fully justifies Gordon Brown’s caution, his insistence this week in front of a Commons select committee that defecit spending was still necessary. The battle, then, is joined – and not on ground of Cameron’s choosing.
Are things looking up? For Nick Clegg, perhaps.