If Clegg loses his seat this man may hold the balance of power

Does anyone in the Lib Dems have a clue?

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The Independent Online

Just in case the potential post-election landscape needed an additional frisson of chaos, that tireless opinion pollster Lord Ashcroft supplies one. With the chances of either main party winning a majority having dwindled to 25 per cent in the betting markets and declining by the week, it is likelier than ever that the Liberal Democrats will retain the balance of power, even with a massively shrunken parliamentary presence.

This makes Ashcroft’s polling in Sheffield Hallam, which now has Nick Clegg trailing the Labour candidate by three points, madly intriguing. Name recognition will obviously help him. But with Labour highly motivated to decapitate a Clegg with whom Ed Miliband would struggle on both ideological and personal grounds to do business, there is a serious chance that the Lord Haw-Haw of tuition fees will lose his student-laden seat.

All of which raises these conundrums: if he is beaten, who will enter coalition talks as Lib Dem interim leader, and how might that person be chosen? Since Clegg’s deputy, Malcolm Bruce, is retiring at the election, the official Lib Dem answer appears to be: “Beats the hell out of me, guv’nor”.

In a conventional leadership election, the members would go for the left-leaning Tim Farron, whose lack of a government post has freed him to court them assiduously. But while such a vote requires months, there would be a few hours between the declaration of the Sheffield count and the start of coalition talks.

This puts others back in the game. Danny Alexander, de facto champion of the party’s right in Clegg’s absence, would probably not be among them, since Betfair quotes the SNP at odds-on 1-16 to beat him in Inverness.

Vince Cable, who should hold on in Twickenham, could find himself in charge by default. If they survive the Lib Dem bloodbath, other runners might include Ed Davey, Norman Lamb and Simon Hughes.

Yet the central question here seems to me less who than how? By what process would a Clegg-less party pick a leader in the immediate aftermath of a Tory-Labour dead heat?

Does anyone in the Lib Dems have a clue? Admittedly, the stakes aren’t that high. Still, it would be nice to know if the Lib Dems have any notion of how to choose someone at high speed to entrust with effective control of our political future.

Sturgeon’s coded message to Little Englanders

Regardless of who leads the Lib Dems on 8 May, Labour might still be unable to govern without the support of the anticipated 30-40 SNP MPs.

So it was fascinating to read Nicola Sturgeon explaining why she is ending the convention against her Westminster MPs (if they would be hers; with Alex Salmond back in town, who knows which of them will call the shots?) voting on solely English matters.

Her argument is that issues such as NHS funding in England “which superficially appear to be ‘England-only’  can have serious knock-on consequences for Scotland in terms of our public finances …”

However impressive the sophistry, the coded message appears to be this: the SNP will be pleased to enter a coalition with Labour, and any Little Englanders who don’t like it can go boil yer heids.

Will Labour take Tony’s promise seriously?

With the boundless enthusiasm of the Murdoch house guest on whose pert butt Wendy Deng’s eyes have hungrily settled, Mr Tony Blair promises to help Labour win power by doing “ whatever the party wants”. That’s swell, but for clarity he might indicate whether “whatever” includes a long period of silence, or the purchase of a one-way private jet trip to the Dutch town known locally as Den Haag?

Sunday ritual that Ed could do without

Not a sabbath passes without the Tory press giving Ed Miliband a carefully co-ordinated kicking, and yesterday’s efforts sustained the synthesised hysteria about the mortal threat he poses to commerce. Various businessfolk who gave Labour money in the Blair days were wheeled out to give the poor boy a doner kebabbing.

A Mail on Sunday headline advised that “Scots hate Ed even more than PM!”, and a Sun report claimed the Tories hope to pick up seats in the north because mining communities hate Miliband more than Cameron. It’s early doors for next Sunday, but initial reports suggest the MoS is toying with “Finchley voters hate Ed more than George Galloway”, while the Sun’s preference is for “Liverpool voters hate Ed more than us!”

Let’s find Bill Somebody – fast

One northern seat the Tories are genuinely targeting is Ed Balls’s Yorkshire citadel of Morley and Outwood, which they came fairly close to capturing in 2010.

The thought of losing our Balls to a fiendish castration strategy is so hatefully excruciating that I’ve been digging through ancestral databases for evidence to vindicate his Newsnight mishap of last week.

The results could, frankly, be better. An Ann Somebody of Cuddington, Bucks, gave birth to a son called William, though sadly she was married at the time (early in Victoria’s reign), so the infant took his father’s name of Hutton.

And though there is a record of a William Nobody, he was born in the City of London in 1607, and may not be up to running a multinational at the minute. The quest for a titan of industry called Bill Somebody continues.