So Gordon Brown does the decent thing, making possible a Lib Dem - Labour coalition. And then, just when it looks like such a coalition might be on the cards, offering a historic opportunity for electoral reform, what do we see? The sudden apperance on the airwaves and in the newspapers of Labour figures - John Reid, David Blunkett, and Tom Harris - rubbishing the very idea.
What drives their opposition?
Obviously there are worries about the parliamentary 'arithmetic' of a Lib Dem - Labour coalition. But this has always seemed to me to be a weak argument once we accept that the point of any Lib Dem - Labour coalition would not be to run for a full five year term but to put in place a short-term government - say two years - which would have two basic aims: to manage the budget deficit more equitably than a Tory or Tory-Lib Dem government and to enact change in the electoral system that would completely change the political game. A Lib Dem-Labour coalition could probably do this with (enough) support of its sister parties in Northern Ireland, the Nationalists and the Greens.
But the arithmetic certainly does become a problem if Labour's own ranks are not willing to support a reforming coalition government. And, despite the evident enthusiasm of some in Labour for the game-changing electoral reform - stretching from Compass through Alan Johnson to Peter Mandelson - others, like Tom Harris, can't abide the idea.
Let's be clear about one thing. Those in Labour who oppose PR have no credible moral or intellectual case - at least in terms of the two key considerations that have historically framed the debate over PR.
PR obviously beats FPTP and AV in terms of intrinsic fairness. Against this, Labour's opponents of PR have argued historically that FPTP is nevertheless better in terms of outcomes over the long-run. It can deliver you Labour governments with solid majorities that can then set about radically reforming the country. This is what one might call the Hattersley Dream (though it is one that Roy Hattersley no longer shares in).
The argument once had some intuitive plausibility. But, as I have discussed in a number of earlier posts at Next Left, the actual evidence refutes it. The evidence is that PR systems deliver better outcomes in the long-run in terms of equality and social spending than majoritarian systems. Parties of the left rarely hold power by themselves in such systems - the Hattersely Dream - but nor do we see quite so many episodes of unqualified rule by parties of the right. Parties of the left spend on average much more time in government - albeit in coalition - under PR. And this shifts the centre of policy gravity to the left.
If Labour's anti-PR tendency stand in the way of a Lib Dem-Labour coalition, millions of vulnerable people will face cuts to benefits and services which they would have escaped under this coalition. And to what end?
To block a reform of the electoral system which is most likely to be to the long-term advantage of precisely this same group of vulnerable individuals....
Stuart White teaches Politics at Oxford University. He blogs here in a personal capacity and is not a spokesperson for the Fabian Society.