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Clegg hands Cameron to keys to Number 10

That's what the lobby's tweeting about Clegg's remarkable statement - made a few moments ago outside Liberal Democrat HQ in Downing Street.

Clegg reaffirmed his commitment to let the Party with most votes and seats have first go at forming a government.  He specifically named the Conservatives, and went further than before by emphasising that Cameron should, if necessary, be allowed to go it alone.

It's hard to see where Mandelson's schemes, and Blairite hopes of a quick realignment of the left, go from here.  True, Clegg reaffirmed his commitment to PR.  But he didn't demand a referendum - and threaten to bring Cameron down if he didn't get it.

It's extraordinary that Clegg's moved so swiftly.  Whatever happened to the fabled "triple lock" that would apparently bind his hands?  What does his Parliamentary Party think?  Then again, it's extraordinary that Clegg gave a commitment in relation to votes, seats and government in the first place.

It's difficult not to conclude that those who argued that Clegg can't abide Brown were right - and to see his commitment as a way of heading Labour off.  Of course, Clegg's bound to pounce on a Conservative Government in his own time. He may well be able to bring it down when he chooses.

But as I write, it looks as though there's room for an understanding on an emergency budget at least.  Those who doubt it should study the overlapping manifesto commitments from the two parties on where cuts should fall.

Sure, Clegg's in a poor position after last night.  He's little room for manoeuvre. And he's offering Cameron tense co-habitation, not a settled marriage. But David Cameron would be wise to be very gracious to Clegg when he speaks later.

After all, the latter looks to have put him in Downing Street by the end of the day. And to have thrust a spanner into Mandelson's dreams of realignment.  And, let's face it, to have acted in the national interest. Credit should be given when credit is due.

Paul Goodman

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