In what could potentially turn out to be one of the most important utterances of the campaign, Nick Clegg has given an interview to this morning's Sunday Times in which he says that he would not prop up a lame-duck Brown government in the event of a hung parliament.
Here are the key excerpts from the paper's write-up of what he had to say:
The Liberal Democrat leader is ready to tear up the rulebook and oust the prime minister if there is no decisive result on May 6. In a Sunday Times interview he warned that Brown’s position would be untenable if Labour got a low share of the popular vote but still ended up as the biggest party in the Commons.
“I think it’s a complete nonsense. I mean, how on earth? You can’t have Gordon Brown squatting in No 10 just because of the irrational idiosyncrasies of our electoral system,” Clegg said.
Clegg said the election was now effectively a two-horse race between the Tories and the Lib Dems. “Labour is increasingly irrelevant. The question now [about what would happen] is one in which the Labour party plays no role,” he said.
In the Sunday Times interview, the Lib Dem leader revealed that he would support the Tories if they won the largest number of seats and largest share of the votes. This would defy the constitutional convention which would give Brown first call on attempting to form a government.
“I tie my hands in the following sense: that the party that has more votes and seats, but doesn’t get an absolute majority — I support them,” Clegg said.
This will come as a devastating blow to those in the Labour Party who have been grasping to the hope of a so-called "progressive coalition" with the Lib Dems as a way of keeping the Conservatives out of power if David Cameron failed to win an outright Commons majority.
It also suggests to me that the Lib Dems have been finding the Conservative message that a vote for the Lib Dems could let Brown cling on to power very potent on the doorsteps.
Yet given this intervention, it is all the more intriguing to read what Paddy Ashdown has to say in The People this morning.
Lord Ashdown, who has been "spinning" for Clegg after the leaders' debates, explicitly tells the paper:
NICK CLEGG: I could sit around a cabinet table with anyone who
agrees with me that what we need to do is hard wire fairness into the
British… into the tax system.
ANDREW MARR: Including Gordon Brown?
NICK CLEGG: Anyone…