After six hours of Tory-Liberal talks, still no deal

No mention of electoral reform as the two parties emerge from the Cabinet Office.

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We may never know what exactly went on at today's epic meeting at the Cabinet Office between the Tory and Lib Dem negotiating teams, which have almost certainly been lectured by senior civil servants about a vow of silence.

In their statements, Danny Alexander and William Hague put similar emphasis on the deficit and the economy, making it appear as if they are singing from the same hymn sheet and serious about a deal. David Cameron and Nick Clegg are set to speak again tonight, too.

However, that Hague referred to another meeting within "24 hours", that Cameron must face a restive parliamentary party tomorrow evening, and that the Lib Dems have to be seen to be going through the motions and being patriotic mean it is still not inconceivable that talks will break down and the Lib Dems will turn to Labour.

Gordon Brown, who is under threat, but who most Labour MPs must know cannot leave while the Liberals and Tories negotiate, as his party would implode and be ruled out of any deal, is now said to have offered not just a PR referendum and a larger number of seats than the Tories, but also AV immediately.

That will be hard for Clegg to resist, and if he does so he will have some explaining to do to his party.

Some in Labour are resigned to opposition, apparently including Ed Balls, who, if so, has had his first major disagreement with his mentor Brown. The Prime Minister is still fighting for a progressive alliance, a prospect around which the forces of conservatism are circling, ready to attack.

Both Brown and Clegg will need an iron will to resist the sense of inevitability about a Tory-Liberal deal.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.