Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How many of Clegg's coalition negotiating team will keep their seats?

Danny Alexander and Lynne Featherstone are both vulnerable to Labour challenges.

So confident is Nick Clegg that the next election will result in another hung parliament that he's already announced the Lib Dems' coalition negotiating team. The right-leaning Danny Alexander and David Laws, the party's manifesto co-ordinator, survive from 2010 (Chris Huhne and Andrew Stunell do not) and are joined by the left-leaning pensions minister Steve Webb, international development minister Lynne Featherstone and peer Lady Brinton. Like others, as I've argued before, Clegg is underestimating the chance of a Labour majority in 2015 (although his emphasis on a future coalition is a logical means of keeping the Lib Dems in the conversation) But even if we assume there will be another "balanced parliament" (as the Lib Dems like to call it), it's worth posing this question: how many of his negotiating team will keep their seats?

Laws (majority: 13,036) and Webb (majority: 7,116), who hold Tory-facing seats, look safe. But Alexander and Featherstone, who face challenges from Labour, are rightly regarded as vulnerable in Westminster. 

Alexander's Scottish constituency of Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is being targeted by Labour activists and trade unionists, who believe they can unseat the man who even his own colleagues lament has gone "native" in George Osborne's Treasury ("rather than meeting Danny we just ask for the Treasury 'lines' - it's quicker," one Lib Dem adviser told me recently). The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has a majority of 8,765 but given the huge swing against the Lib Dems north of the border, that is no longer large enough to guarantee survival. With a majority of 6,875, Featherstone, who won Hornsey and Wood Green in 2005 on a wave of anger over the Iraq war and top-up fees, is in even greater danger. 

Clegg's decision to announce his coalition negotiating team (the Tories and Labour will undoubtedly make their own prepartions, but don't expect them to share them with us) isn't just a bet on another hung parliament; it's a bet that Lib Dems' strategy of "57 by-elections" will ensure the likes of Alexander and Featherstone keep their seats. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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As the strangers approach the bed, I wonder if this could be a moment of great gentleness

I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do.

It’s 1.13am on an autumn morning some time towards the end of the 20th century and I’m awake in a vast hotel bed in a small town in the east of England. The mysterious east, with its horizons that seem to stretch further than they should be allowed to stretch by law. I can’t sleep. My asthma is bad and I’m wheezing. The clock I bought for £3 many years earlier ticks my life away with its long, slow music. The street light outside makes the room glow and shimmer.

I can hear footsteps coming down the corridor – some returning drunks, I guess, wrecked on the reef of a night on the town. I gaze at the ceiling, waiting for the footsteps to pass.

They don’t pass. They stop outside my door. I can hear whispering and suppressed laughter. My clock ticks. I hear a key card being presented, then withdrawn. The door opens slowly, creaking like a door on a Radio 4 play might. The whispering susurrates like leaves on a tree.

It’s an odd intrusion, this, as though somebody is clambering into your shirt, taking their time. A hotel room is your space, your personal kingdom. I’ve thrown my socks on the floor and my toothbrush is almost bald in the bathroom even though there’s a new one in my bag because I thought I would be alone in my intimacy.

Two figures enter. A man and a woman make their way towards the bed. In the half-dark, I can recognise the man as the one who checked me in earlier. He says, “It’s all right, there’s nobody in here,” and the woman laughs like he has just told her a joke.

This is a moment. I feel like I’m in a film. It’s not like being burgled because this isn’t my house and I’m sure they don’t mean me any harm. In fact, they mean each other the opposite.

Surely they can hear my clock dripping seconds? Surely they can hear me wheezing?

They approach, closer and closer, towards the bed. The room isn’t huge but it seems to be taking them ages to cross it. I don’t know what to do. In my old T-shirt and M&S pants, I don’t know what to do. I should speak. I should say with authority, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?” But I don’t.

I could just lie here, as still as a book, and let them get in. It could be a moment of great gentleness, a moment between strangers. I would be like a chubby, wheezing Yorkshire pillow between them. I could be a metaphor for something timeless and unspoken.

They get closer. The woman reaches her hand across the bed and she touches the man’s hand in a gesture of tenderness so fragile that it almost makes me sob.

I sit up and shout, “Bugger off!” and they turn and run, almost knocking my clock from the bedside table. The door crashes shut shakily and the room seems to reverberate.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge