Danny Finkelstein of the Times has a characteristically thought provoking blog on why Nick Clegg should be praying for a slim Tory majority. But he’s only half right. He forgot the political lessons from the ERM.
Some Lib Dems do indeed privately admit that a tiny Tory majority is their ideal outcome.
Cameron would be left to wield the public spending axe alone. The Tory backwoodsmen would be more powerful than ever. The Cameron government would be unpopular and divided — just the recipe for painting the Tory heartlands yellow at the next election.
But Finkelstein is wrong about the risks to the Lib Dem of minority government. The Lib Dems would indeed be more involved in wielding the public spending axe. It could split the party. But he underestimates the advantages of being closer to power — and overplays the dangers.
If he plays his cards right, Clegg can go into the next election saying: “I’ve delivered fairer taxes, school reform and a crackdown on bankers. And we’ve stopped the nasty Tories doing X, Y and Z.”
The downside of helping to pass the budget will be limited. Remember that the Tories and Labour had roughly the same ERM policy on Black Wednesday. But only the Tories were punished by the electorate.
A Cameron minority government would take the lions share of the blame for imposing draconian cuts, particularly if their mandate from this election proves insufficient to do the job. Politics is a relative game and the Lib Dem hand is potentially stronger, even if Clegg backs a minority government.