Alex Hilton: Clegg can ask for much more

Nick Clegg's whole political career has been so distant from power that he doesn't recognise it when he has it.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

Faced with the prospect of coalition negotiations, Clegg is faltering when he should be showing strength.

With the Conservatives seemingly meeting a glass ceiling of support, it increasingly looks like the British public wants a hung parliament. Yet at a time when the Liberal Democrats should be laying out their red lines for coalition and building public support for them, Clegg is ruling out a deal with Labour should the incumbent party gain third place in the popular vote.

Labour coming third in terms of votes yet returning the largest number of MPs is both a likely scenario and a clear illustration of the perversity of our electoral system. Clegg ought to embrace such a result, because if it happens he can have everything he wants.

Imagine that is the result. If no party has enough support to form a successful minority administration, the Lib Dems would have to decide which one to support. What Clegg doesn't seem to realise is that the weaker the mandate of the Prime Minister he supports, the more he will be able to demand.

By supporting a Labour government that had come third in the popular vote, Clegg could demand real electoral reform in the form of the single transferable vote, like we use in Scottish council elections. He could also demand fixed-term parliaments, a wholly elected House of Lords and probably proportional representation for local government too. He could demand the Deputy Prime Ministership with the remit to deliver these reforms and probably the Chancellorship for Vince Cable.

But most crucially, to avoid the accusation of propping up a PM rejected by the public, he could demand that Parliament has a life of only 18 months and that there is an election as soon as the constitutional reforms have been enacted.

All of that would be very hard to resist in the event of that particular electoral outcome. The problem with Clegg is that he is just not demanding enough.

Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blog Labourhome

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