Clegg made his reputation in large part on his work developing the LibDem alliances in Europe into the most powerful left-wing coalition in Brussels, and Huhne was a colleague of his there. Clegg has done this before.
It was very obvious that neither Tories nor Labour knew how to run a campaign which might end in a coalition, let alone what to do when neither of them won a clear majority. Cameron and Brown, to give them due, both rose to the occasion with a level of dignity and competence I had not been led to expect. But neither the Labour Party nor the Tories had any idea what to do; what you do after elections is either crow or viciously attack your opponent for doing just what you did to the constituency boundaries last time you were in.
The Liberal Democrat campaign, as led by Nick Clegg, shut no doors at all. The conduct of both the leadership and the parliamentary party during the negotiation process has been exemplary, and I don’t believe I’ve ever said that about politicians on this blog. They acted like the guys in the room who knew what they were doing, and they got a much better deal than I could have expected. I say ‘better deal’ and I mean for me, as a non-member who is both personally quite poor and a small-business entrepreneur (these two are integrally related). I also mean for the nation, for several different reasons. I thought they were going to get screwed with their pants on by a vindictive Tory party who have been waiting thirteen years for a chance to savage the ‘liberal elite’. But that’s not what happened.
What happens next is a different matter. It is difficult to see what the LDs will do if the Tories renege on aspects of the coalition agreement; far too many of those who make the front benches will be subject to very intense incentives not to revolt, let alone bring down the government. Are Cameron and co. honest parties here? I don’t know. A similar question could be directed at Clegg and Huhne; will the Orange Book faction of the LDs push the party to the right in power? I don’t know.