I am vastly amused by the image of Nick Clegg as a regency heiress with his dowry of 57 votes, and Gordon Brown and David Cameron falling over themselves to woo him. Who does he have first on his dance card?
But of course this brings in the other comparisons inherent in the similie, which are rather less amusing when you stop to think about it. Yes, Nick Clegg is like a regency heiress. His dowry is the 57 votes he brings with him. But, like the heiress with her fortune, the negotiations he is engaged in is about how he can give away that dowry, that power. It is useless to him, and to the other 56 Lib Dems who hold those votes, while he owns it. It is powerful only when placed in the hands of one of the two big parties. The Lib Dem's importance is derived entirely from how much importance the other parties confer on them.
What Nick Clegg and the Lib Dem's must now decide is what they are going to sell their dowry of 57 votes for. Positions in the Cabinet? A referendum on the electoral system? A voice that the majority party must, however resentfully, listen to? (Lilac in the parlour instead of yellow, yes of course you may manage the estate however you like, darling.) Or to stand proud, alone, allow the Conservatives to form a minority government but take none of their gifts - and keep to their pure principles. Unimplemented, but unsullied.
For the hope of power in the future and the promise of being able to implement some of their policies now entering into the most advantageous marriage contract would seem the only way forward.
But we tend to boo the Heiress who marries out of calculation and for advantage. And cheer for the one who throws it all away and marries for love.