Kingmaker or poison taster?

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May 11: Britain’s third largest party has suddenly found itself in the full glare of the political spotlight. It’s an uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous, place.
An inconclusive election result last week — the first such outcome in more than 30 years — has handed the centre-left Liberal Democrats the balance of power.
It should be a moment of triumph for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats — formed from the old Liberal Party, one of the two great political parties of the mid-19th century — have not had a shot at government for decades.
Now they have a very real chance of ministerial posts and of achieving long-sought reform of Britain’s voting system.
Yet the dilemma of choosing to ally with either centre-left Labour or centre-right Conservatives could thrust the LibDems back to the political wilderness for decades if they get it wrong.
“There is a danger that if something doesn’t come out of this that is positive or permanent ... then the Liberal Democrats will be skewered,” said Steven Fielding, Professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.
Mr Clegg is in a bind. His party sits on the left of the political spectrum, championing social liberalism, electoral reform and fairer distribution of taxes and services.
That should make an alliance with the ruling Labour party a much more natural fit.
But Labour’s popularity has plunged after 13 years in power and it now faces a four-month leadership battle that could distract it from what all parties agree is the most important challenge for government — tackling the nation’s debts — after Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed on Monday to step aside.
“How can anyone with any gumption call for stable government and then propose allying with a party which is going to spend the next four months in a bitter leadership contest?” wrote a blogger on activist website Liberal Democrat Voice.
Nor would the LibDems and Labour together have enough seats to form a majority so they would need the support of a clutch of smaller parties, such as the Scottish National Party and Wales’ Plaid Cymru, to push through legislation.
Such a potentially unstable government would test the vision of a strong government Mr Clegg has said the country needs.

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