With 11 days to go and polls suggesting a hung parliament, what secret deals are going on?

The main parties are preparing the ground for talks about the post-election balance of power

Even on the streets of Afghanistan Nick Clegg is a hero. His direct, bouncy style has won admirers far beyond the millions who witnessed his performances in the first two televised leaders' debates. In Kabul, Accra and Dhaka, most of those who watched the programmes backed the Liberal Democrat leader. "I'll be voting for Nick," said Shakib Shariffi, a democracy campaigner in Kabul, who is participating in an innovative "vote-swapping" scheme. "I just think he was the most honest."

The question is whether Mr Clegg's new-found popularity can last long enough back home to grant him a central role in the construction of the UK's next government.

The Conservatives began the election campaign stridently against the possibility of cobbling together a coalition to rule in a hung Parliament. Even after Mr Clegg skewed the polls with his game-changing performance in the first debate, David Cameron clung to his resistance – motivated by an objection in principle to deals with the Lib Dems.

Labour has been quicker off the mark. From Gordon Brown's repeated attempts to "agree with Nick" during the first debate, the Labour leadership has been clearing the lines of communication. The two parties have a history of co-operation, at Westminster and in Scotland. While the young Mr Clegg dislikes Mr Brown, his senior colleague Sir Menzies Campbell enjoys a closer relationship with the Prime Minister. Sir Ming is a veteran of the previous occasion, in 1997, when such a deal was mooted. Then Labour considered, but opted out of, a deal and Tony Blair turned his back on electoral reform. However, Gordon Brown's recent sympathy for adopting a new electoral system has encouraged those who favour a deal. David Cameron has always opposed changing the system, but some believe that if he felt reform was unavoidable, he would favour a more proportional system than Labour has been willing to countenance.

It is rumoured that Lord Mandelson is considering lining up a replacement for Mr Brown – with David Miliband the most likely – to meet the bottom line of any pre-election demands from the Lib Dems. The loyal Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, has dismissed such speculation – but significantly now concedes that Labour could work with Mr Clegg.

"The one thing we and pretty much all the Lib Dems I know are agreed on is that a Conservative majority government is absolutely the worst outcome," Mr Balls said. Whether he is simply speaking to the Lib Dems over the heads of the media or repeating communications already being delivered behind the scenes, it is a powerful a message.

It is clearly being heard by the most resolute refuseniks within Mr Cameron's high command, and the most senior figures are responding.

Kenneth Clarke contributed to the thaw yesterday, when he said the Tories' "starting point" for coalition would be a refusal to compromise on their economic plans. Although Mr Clarke also said he did not expect a Con-Lib pact he was still sketching the outline of one which could work.

If Mr Clegg could not face making any advances himself, he could ask his wife to help. Miriam Gonzalez Durantez used to work with Ed Llewellyn – now Mr Cameron's chief of staff – in Lord Patten's office. Conveniently, they also shared an office with Lord Mandelson's press secretary, Peter Power.

The final debate, this week, will concentrate on the economy, which is Mr Brown's strongest suit. A Brown recovery on the back of it could whittle away at the Lib Dems' standings, as much as at the Tories'.

More generally, much will depend on whether the Brown plan to put himself at the heart of the Labour campaign succeeds, or backfires fatally. The strategy, tried out at several engagements yesterday, will be on display in London today when Mr Brown personally launches Labour's "green manifesto".

The Conservatives, while maintaining efforts to underline Mr Clegg, promise "a more positive campaign" this week, concentrating on what they promise to do for Britain, rather than criticising their opponents.

Getting ready for the third TV debate

Nick Clegg

What he needs to do Carry on with his message that the Lib Dems can make a difference to the "old politics" status quo. Highlight plans to raise income tax threshold to £10,000 and a mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.

Potential pitfalls Lack of experience on the economy could expose him as a two-hit wonder.

Gordon Brown

What he needs to do Focus on the headline message: that the Government must keep spending to prevent a "double-dip" recession that is more likely under Tory cuts. Continue to push the "substance" message.

Potential pitfalls Just 0.2 per cent growth in the economy at start of year, so Cameron and Clegg will say that Labour hasn't secured recovery.

David Cameron

What he needs to do Challenge Brown's "experience" message by highlighting Labour's "jobs tax" of an NI rise next year, while squaring this with Tory plans for big public spending cuts this year. See off Clegg by showing more flair.

Potential pitfalls This is his last chance to get ahead in polls, so he cannot afford a single slip.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit