David Cameron is absolutely right to plan properly for post-2015 election negotiations, as the Daily Telegraph reports today, either with the Liberal Democrats or with other parties (such as the Democratic Unionists, were the numbers to add up). As the paper kindly acknowledges in an editorial, one of my leitmotifs since the 2010 election is that the Conservatives can't win a majority next time round given the distribution of the vote - a problem that the cut in the number of Commons constituencies proposed by the Government, and so ignobly sunk by the Liberal Democrats, would have addressed. If the Commons is hung in 2015, the Prime Minister would have a responsibility to the country to strive to keep it out of Labour's hands.
This means building strong foundations for any consequent coalition - a necessity which, last time round, was compromised by the rush to office of both parties, and their unpreparedness, plus that of Whitehall, for the dance of negotiation which a hung Parliament brings with it. The Liberal Democrats made a hash of their position on tuition fees. And the Conservative leadership was too quick to dump parts of the programme on which it had just fought the election, such as its commitments on inheritance tax and stamp duty. Furthermore, Tory MPs weren't given the chance to vote formally on the coalition deal. It was presented to them at a single meeting of the 1922, and sold to them on a mistaken prospectus.
By Paul Goodman
David Cameron was desparate to avoid governing with the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg was keen to do a deal with Gordon Brown, because their personal relationship is strong. The Labour leader behaved selflessly throughout the Coalition negotiations, putting constitutional requirements before his Party's interests.
To cause a sensation, David Laws new book, serialised in today's Mail on Sunday, would have had to spring a surprise - and say the above, or something very like it, garnished with details of spectacular rows and personal tensions during the talks between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat teams.
Instead, it tells us nothing significant that we don't already know. There are a few memorable snippets. Peter Mandelson, responding to the Liberal Democrats' mansion tax plan, said: "Surely the rich have suffered enough?" Ed Miliband went out to make the tea during the Labour-Liberal Democrat talks.
Brown's interminable phone lectures wrung a cry of "That man!" from Nick Clegg. Miliband, Harriet Harman and Ed Balls - in particular - didn't want a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, and effectively sabotaged any prospect of a pact.
That all these awkward details involve Labour is deliberate. In views and outlook, Laws was the most right-wing Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister, and one of the main hinges that joined the Coalition together. He's out to present the enterprise in the most favourable way possible.
Ben Brogan reports on his blog here that a "formal channel" involving senior members of the 1922 Committee may be set up to communicate Conservative MPs' views to the Party leadership during the next few days.
Brogan specifically names Richard Ottoway, a Vice-Chairman of the '22 during the last Parliament, and John Whittingdale, the other Vice-Chairman, as "in effect the acting Chairmen of the '22".
I've a lot of time for both men - indeed, I voted for them when the last '22 elections came round. The first was on the "left" ticket, the second on the "right".
But the suggestion of a formal channel raises as many questions as it answers.
As I wrote earlier this week here, former Executive members of the '22 Committee from the last Parliament who've been re-elected are due to meet soon - tomorrow afternoon, in fact.
They will consider whether or not to bring forward the election of a new Chairman from its present date, which is sometime at the end of the month - almost two weeks after the new Parliament convenes for the first time on May 18.
Were the election not to be brought forward, and a formal channel to be set up during the interim, a question would arise: what legitimacy would such a channel have?
After all, almost half the newly-elected Conservative MPs are Commons virgins. '22 Executive officers elected during the last Parliament can't really claim to represent them.
Furthermore, the suggestion of a formal channel raises a further problem, namely: how should such a channel be constituted?
It could just consist of the two former Vice-Chairmen. But if all former officers from the last Executive are included, then Chris Chope, the former Secretary, could claim a place in the formal channel.
So, too, could that Executive's members, in which the centre-right of the Party is dominant. It included, for example, David Amess, Peter Bone, Philip Davies, and Graham Brady, himself a candidate for the Chairmanship.
In short, the best vehicle to communicate backbenchers' views to the leadership would be a new '22 Chairman and Executive - one endorsed by all Tory MPs, including the new intake.
That's why, given the importance of the issues at stake, such a Chairman and Executive should be elected as soon as possible.
The Conservative-Lib Dem talks have just begun for the day and as the Tory quartet enetered the Cabinet Office, William Hague said that the talks were "going well" and that today's meetings would be discussing "specific ideas and proposals".
He added that he was "optimistic about making further progress very soon".
Further updates on the talks will be added during the course of the day.
Sky News reports that David Cameron and Nick Clegg had a 30-minute phone conversation this morning.
Shadow Cabinet will meet at 4pm for an update on talks in advance of the parliamentary party meeting at 6pm.
At about 11.40am the talks teams emerged from the Cabinet Office, with William Hague saying that the teams were working well together and that each team was now off to brief their respective party leader. Danny Alexander made a similar statement for the Lib Dems. Around the same time it emerged that Clegg and Brown had had another face-to-face meeting this morning.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Ed Balls, Lord Mandelson, Ed Miliband, and Lord Adonis secretly met the Lib Dem negotiators over the weekend.
The Shadow Cabinet meeting has been brought forward to 2pm.
The BBC are reporting that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have had another face-to-face meeting, as the Lib Dem parliamentary party meeting in Westminster.
The Shadow Cabinet meeting has finished; one source has suggested to me that the meeting was updated on the talks, but that no finalised deal is yet on the table.
As Tim has tweeted: "The Party Board will meet at 7pm to discuss the LibCon talks but (ridiculously) we aren't meant to know. What happened to transparency?"
Lib Dem negotiator David Laws has made a statement on TV via mobile phone after the Lib Dem parliamentary party meeting. He said that stable and strong government was vital for tackling the country's economic problems and that bringing down the deficit would be central to any agreement that is made. He said that they had so far had "very good discussions" with the Tories, but there is no deal yet and that they are still seeking clarification on big issues including educaiton, fair taxes and voting reform.
After the news that Gordon Brown will resign and that the Lib Dems are opening up negotiations with Labour, comes news regarding the Conservative offer to the Lib Dems: the party is offering a referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system as part of a final offer on a power-sharing deal.
William Hague spoke to reporters outside the Commons to explain the offer of a referendum on Alternative Vote being made to the Lib Dems. He said that in trying to create a stable and secure government the Tories would "go the extra mile" and to offer this referendum on AV so the people of this country can decide.
He said it was urgent that country has a new and stable government and that the Lib Dems now had a choice:
He said that everybody would be at liberty to campaign as they wished in a referendum on AV.