David Cameron, loath to attempt to govern without a parliamentary majority, put a referendum on “alternative vote” (AV) on the table in a bid to finally clinch power.
But just as the contest appeared to have decisively fallen in Cameron’s favour, Gordon Brown threw the race wide open by offering himself as a sacrificial lamb.
Now Clegg will study what both sides are offering to gain his backing in what, either way, will be an unpopular decision with his core voters.
The AV system offered by Cameron asks the public to rank their first and second preferences for candidates. The second choice votes are redistributed until one of the runners gets more than half of the vote.
This system would have seen the Lib Dems finish with 79 seats instead of the 57 they secured. It is thought the Tories will also offer cabinet seats to any Lib Dem politicians.
Labour hopes to coax the party into its grand rainbow coalition by throwing even more concessions their way.
It will offer to push through AV legislation without a referendum and will put “single transferable vote” (STV) to the electorate. Under STV, voters rank candidates in order of preference but each seat has more than one MP, giving lower-choice candidates a share of power.
With this system the Lib Dems would have almost tripled their share of the public vote to 162 seats.
Labour would also consider offering cabinet posts to senior Lib Dems and have sacrificed their leader, a major stopping point in any power sharing deal.
HOW IT COULD HAVE BEEN
CURRENT SYSTEM: FIRST PAST THE POST
Liberal Democrat: 57
Liberal Democrat: 79
SINGLE TRANSFERABLE VOTE
Liberal Democrat: 162