I've been up all night watching the UK elections and will have more to say about them later, but before I catch a couple of hours sleep before Practice 2 of the Spanish F1 GP I was wondering...
Does Nick Clegg Play Poker?
Because it feels to me that he is setting up a Big Play.
The situation... For the first time since 1974 the electorate has made a mess of the election and produced a hung parliament. Silly voters.
The Conservative Party has gained the most seats and greatest percentage of the popular vote, but do not have enough seats for an overall majority in the Commons.
Constitutionally, the incumbent Prime Minister, Mr. Brown of the Labour Party, has the right to attempt to form a government in this situation. Which would require, at a minimum, the support of Clegg's Liberal Democrats.
But Clegg has just stated loudly and clearly that it is the Conservatives, as the largest party, who should have first shot at forming a Government.
And while it is conceivable that the Conservatives could cobble together a workable minority government by adding a few Ulster unionists, it seems impossible they can form a majority government without the Lib Dems.
So at first sight this is very simple. Clegg feels the Conservatives have the moral (ugh) right to attempt to form a government, and the Lib Dems have enough seats to easily allow that to happen.
Except it can't possibly happen. Can it? Surely the Lib Dems would require a Conservative commitment to electoral reform. This may be their best chance in decades to modify the electoral system that is effectively keeping them out of power.
But Cameron and the Conservatives are fiercely opposed to such reform.
And in addition to that single deal-breaking issue, the Labour and Liberal Democrats are far closer on economic policy than the Lib Dems and Conservatives. And more critically, the Labour Party is prepared to put electoral reform to a public referendum.
So constitutionally, philosophically and practically, everything points to Clegg leading his party into a coalition with Labour. An option that he has just publicly torpedoed.
Not if Clegg plays poker.
Clegg's problem is that a coalition with Labour would lead him to be crucified in the British Press and much of the electorate. It would be seen as cynical opportunism propping up a Labour regime that has just received a resounding "get out of office" vote by the British people. And if it went wrong it would finish Clegg and quite possibly his party.
But if Clegg tries, really really hard, to work with the Conservatives and, if after much hand-wringing and soul-searching, finds that he can not... Then what other choice does Mr. Clegg have? For the sake of the nation he will be compelled, perhaps reluctantly (uh huh), to form a coalition with the Labour Party. Thereby ensuring changes in the electoral system that will allow the Lib Dems far greater representation in the Commons in the future.
It seems to me that Mr. Clegg is slow-playing the winning hand. Which can be a powerful play. Except that, as any Omaha player can tell you, sometimes it can go horribly wrong.