What should we make of his â€œmandateâ€ comment?
Itâ€™s unusual for the Lib Dems to get drawn into discussions about possible election results and what theyâ€™d do in a hung parliament. There are no easy answers and all scenarios tend to lead the discussion towards Labour and the Conservatives rather than the Lib Dems.
So Cleggâ€™s comments yesterday on GMTV form a very interesting position. He said:If a party has got more support and has got a clearer mandate from the British people than any other party, even if they don’t have an absolute majority, then I think we live in a democracy, that party has got the moral right to seek to govern.
The key words are â€˜supportâ€™ and â€˜mandateâ€™, both of which could be variously defined but for the Lib Dems, so keen on PR, share of the vote would have to rank highly.
That automatically gives the Conservatives a strong advantage, given that in most hung parliament scenarios the Tories will have won more votes than Labour.
There is some wriggle-room in that â€˜the right to seek to governâ€™ isnâ€™t the same as â€˜the right to governâ€™ but it does indicate at least a first crack of the whip.
Would Clegg and his MPs really put Cameron into Downing Street if they held the balance? It wouldnâ€™t necessarily be a popular move with much of the activist base and most of the Lib Demsâ€™ (current) seats face Tories as their main challengers but the alternative – maintaining a Labour government that had lost its majority and lost on votes – might be even worse.
That said, a Tory minority administration might not be all bad for the Lib Dems. Itâ€™s much easier to oppose a government than another opposition – even one that you put into power – especially when the governmentâ€™s very likely to be faced with extremely tight budgetary constraints.
Cleggâ€™s bigger problem could be avoiding alienating potential supporters who feel strongly about which of the larger parties they donâ€™t want the Lib Dems to align with.
If we believe YouGov, the Conservative lead is in mid-single figures, which if reproduced at the election would be low enough to make these sort of decisions critical in determining both who became PM and the outcome of many other betting markets. Even if most other pollsters are right and the current lead is in high single figures, that could still decline by polling day so the scenarioâ€™s very much in play.