Coalition: Who do you dislike least?

Nick Clegg Image copyright EPA

Take your pick.

Clegg, Farage or Salmond.

Who do you want to hold the balance of power?

Who do you want to call the shots?

Who should be in a position to hold the next government to ransom?

Nick Clegg posed those questions today.

Coalition was inevitable, he suggested, so the choice was simply between a "coalition of conscience" and a "coalition of grievance" - in other words a Lib Dem coalition with either Labour or the Tories and not a deal between the SNP and Labour or the Tories, UKIP and the DUP.

An hour later Nigel Farage made his alternative pitch for UKIP having a stake in the next government of the UK.

Hold on a second, though. The polls may continue to suggest there'll be no clear winner in three weeks time but coalition is far from inevitable.

Image copyright PA

That's not only because voters may react against the idea of deals and pacts and vote to give one party that elusive majority.

It's also because it's perfectly possible that the election will produce a minority government in which one party governs alone and not in coalition and seeks not one deal for five years but a series of deals vote-by-Parliamentary vote.

Nick Clegg knows this but he also knows that if there are to be deals all potential partners are not equal. He knows that dealing with him would be much more attractive to David Cameron or Ed Miliband than dealing with Farage or Salmond.

What's more, many voters wrongly wrote the Lib Dems off before this campaign began. Despite the slump in their poll ratings they are likely to be much more significant players in the next Parliament than the new kids on the political block - UKIP and the Greens.

Even if Nick Clegg's appeal today does not produce a boost in his party's ratings, his party's on course to win between 20 and 40 MPs.

In contrast Nigel Farage has talked of gaining three or four seats and Natalie Bennett knows her party could struggle to hold the one seat they have. Some believe both parties could end up with no MPs at all.

That's why today Nick Clegg's pitch to the nation was to say, in effect, "if you don't like me have you thought about the alternatives?"

So, if you do agree with Nick on that don't be at all surprised if after 7 May he still has a place at the cabinet table.

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