Nick Clegg’s chances of striking a quick deal with the Conservatives after the election were dealt a blow when former party leader Lord Steel let it be known his party should reject a further coalition.
Steel, normally reluctant to tell Clegg how he should take decisions, has been telling friends that in any Lib Dem vote on a deal with the Conservatives, he would oppose any further coalition, believing it necessary for the party to recharge its batteries and values.
It is too early to sense whether Steel’s will emerge as the majority view in the party with much turning on the arithmetic of the state of the parties on Friday.
Steel does not rule out cooperation with a minority Labour government in a constitutional convention or commission to secure specific reforms. Those reforms would include home rule for Scotland within the UK; an English grand committee for the Commons to ensure English-only legislation was handled in the Commons only by English MPs and finally the creation of a smaller democratic Senate to replace the House of Lords, elected by the component parts of the UK.
Labour has said it backs a constitutional convention and would agree the three issues raised by Lord Steel to be included. However it is likely that Labour would prefer the Liberal Democrats to join it in a coalition if that was possible.
Steel oversaw the last Lib-Lab pact in the late Seventies and his advice, if developed in public, will hold sway with some MPs.
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