(Those of my readers with no interest in the UK General Election may want to move on.)
Poor Nick Clegg. He’s got two options, both of which suck.
Option 1: an arrangement of some sort with the Conservatives. They aren’t offering the voting reform he wants and has said is a prerequisite; if he picks this, his entire party will claim that he’s sold out. Given that it’s such a core LD policy, it would be a disaster for him. Is there any chance the Conservatives can offer him enough for him to save face, but not enough for there to be a chance of PR actually happening?
Option 2: a coalition with Labour. This gets him the voting reform, but they don’t have enough seats to make the magic 326 (or 324, if you note that Sinn Fein MPs don’t turn up). Together, that have 315. If you add in the 3 SDLP MPs, who take the Labour whip, you get 318. You need to add in the SNP, or perhaps Plaid Cymru and the Greens, or even all of them, to get a workable majority.
This might well mean Gordon Brown as PM – could Clegg really prop him up after campaigning on a vote for change? Or, if Brown resigned and another Labour person was appointed, the government would then be led by a politician who had not campaigned as PM for the election we’ve just had!
And after that, a fragile alliance will be forced to make severe spending cuts that none of the parties have warned are coming. They probably won’t; and the bond markets from whom we have borrowed a lot of money will get worried, and we will spiral into a fiscal black hole. When things have gone badly enough (perhaps with the IMF called in) that there’s another election, the Conservatives will sweep to power and no-one will trust either Labour or the Lib Dems for years. The Conservatives may well win even if voting reform has been rushed through in the brief period that the coalition held together (although they’d find it much harder in the future).
Neither option looks appealing for Clegg.
All this goes to show that the Conservatives would be mad to concede voting reform to the Lib Dems, but they have to make a very convincing job of looking like they want a deal.