David Cameron hugs Nick Clegg close | Simon Jenkins

David Cameron's 'comprehensive offer' of coalition partnership to Nick Clegg may prove irresistible. But I predict it'll end in tears

Poor Nick Clegg.

He has had a hard night and now the heavy petting has begun. He is being smothered. Gordon Brown tempted him at lunchtime with early legislation on a referendum on electoral reform. An hour later, the Tories' David Cameron was offering serious intimacy on everything from the economy, taxation, education and social policy to the Liberal Democrat crown jewels of political reform.

Clegg emphasised earlier that the party with the most votes and seats had the right to first try to govern. He thus gave Cameron his first smile. But he must decide, and quickly. Then his moment of power will have passed.

Cameron's statement went far further than many expected. There was no determination to rule as a minority administration and challenge the Liberal Democrats to do their worst. The Tory leader clearly wants a "stable and secure" administration to convince the country and the markets that someone is in charge. He appeared to offer close policy cooperation, not on a take-it-or-leave-it basis but in a specific, forged alliance.

While Cameron went out of his way to calm his party's looming fears on Europe, immigration and defence, he could hardly have been more accommodating to Clegg on other matters. The door is clearly ajar to at least a referendum on electoral reform, whatever that might mean.

No one can force the Conservative party, let alone the public, to vote for it and it is unlikely to pass. But if that secures Clegg's support through what will be a turbulent first year of a parliament, it would surely be something Cameron and his colleagues could swallow without jeopardising their seats. The present electoral system hardly favours them at present.

It is almost certain that, whatever Clegg agrees, will not be deliverable over more than a few months. The strains in any parliamentary alliance – as proportional systems abroad indicate – will mean that Cameron and Clegg will find themselves torn this way and that by their backbenchers and parties in the country.

But at present, Cameron has put the most plausible offer on the table. He and Clegg have yet to meet. I would predict a brief but torrid love affair.

More election comment from Cif at the polls

Poll: Who should Nick Clegg back? Vote here


Simon Jenkins

The GuardianTramp

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