Consider Saturday 8th May. In the scenario of an outright Tory victory (which, as it happens, I believe to be viable) no strategy is required, only a satnav that can locate the tradesmen’s entrance to Buck House. But a Hung Parliament is another matter and unless Clegg has a concrete pact already in place with the Milibands, he will wish to know what Cameron has to say. What’s a Dave to do ? As Iain Dale has said, you take power when you can, and in the Hung scenario that means treating with Clegg.
Enemy position: Labour will have more seats than the Libs, though quite possibly less votes. Brown will have already offered Clegg full PR and several Cabinet seats. Leading Labourites will also have pledged Brown’s head on a platter, though the decapitation is unlikely to have taken place by 8th.
Libs, for themselves, have some red-line issues. Manifesto not to be taken at face value, of course: but Europe and PR are pretty totemic, maybe Trident also. The rest is either common ground(-ish) with the Tories, or negotiable.
Own position: probably the highest number of votes; possibly of seats too, but ex hypothesi not enough. Right wing restive & deeply suspicious of anything the Libs will demand on Europe or immigration – needs to hear something congenial inside 48 hours before discipline starts to crumble.
But Clegg hates Brown: there’s plenty of scope here. Solution, in 5 bullets:
1. Offer Clegg a very mild form of PR (e.g. regional top-up seats with a very high % threshold) that includes a mechanism to cure the current structural bias against the Tories stemming from the demographic ratchet and the interminable lag in Boundary Commission changes. This package would need to be very well thought-through, and compelling to Clegg on first reading – there’s no time for extensive back-room deliberations
2. Go for the ‘in-or-out’ referendum on Europe that the Libs already advocate (free vote). Ideally this would be packaged with whatever cunning constitutional wheeze Hague and Grieve have been hatching to institute German-style legal priority and leverage the inevitable opportunities presented by the next accession treaty. But these are not ideal circumstances
3. Scrap Trident, but develop a truly independent nuclear cruise missile platform. (Trident is an expensive floating turd in any case.) Clegg will love the symbolism of this: Tories will love the independence. BAe will love the missile work.
4. Hatch a tax plan that delights both Cons and Libs: given that Cable wants to reduce Income Tax for most, this shouldn’t be beyond the wit of, well, someone with half a brain, really.
5. Tell Clegg he ain’t getting his amnesty of illegals. He won’t mind.
As I say, this is Plan B because Plan A is outright victory and I reckon that’s on. But hey, you always need Plan B.