Tories include Clegg in hung parliament plans

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Senior Tories are discussing the prospect of David Cameron handing Nick Clegg the job of Home Secretary in a coalition government. In a move designed to push Gordon Brown further off the political centre ground, the overture to the Liberal Democrat leader is one option on the table for the Tories' strategy for a hung parliament.

Instilled with renewed confidence after the Crewe and Nantwich by-election victory, the Conservative leader is to launch a new meet-the-voters drive called "Cameron Direct". The first question-and-answer session, open to all members of the public who book free tickets in advance, will be in Harlow on Tuesday.

A senior Tory close to Mr Cameron is actively promoting the idea of finding common ground with the Lib Dems by offering top jobs to Mr Clegg. But disclosure of the offer will be seen as mischief-making by Tories to trap Mr Clegg – rather than a serious proposal to install him in the Home Office.

Mr Clegg has denied aligning himself with Labour or the Conservatives but has set out demands for "partnership" in the event of a hung parliament, including electoral reform.

The Conservatives are running a twin-track strategy preparing for both a hung parliament and an outright win. The hung parliament scenario is now less likely after the victory in Crewe, yet senior insiders are keeping alive the offer of top jobs for Lib Dems. They are also keen to give the impression Mr Cameron is not running away with the idea of outright victory.

The proposal would infuriate many Conservatives including David Davis, who has been promised the job of Home Secretary. Tory strategists believe the Lib Dems will lose heavily to the Conservatives in the South-west, but gain seats from Labour in the North.

A spokeswoman for Mr Cameron denied Mr Clegg would be offered a job. "There are no overtures. David has been really robust on this. We are fighting to win the election."

A Lib Dem spokesman said: "We would reject out of hand any approach like that from either the Tories or Labour. We are not interested in bums on ministerial seats."