Doing the maths...

If you’re the sort of person who cares about this kind of thing, we’re now closer to the next General Election than the last one.

Now, admittedly, that’s hardly the most exciting statistic you’ll hear this week – you may already have heard a more interesting one from a passer-by as you read this.

But it’s a big deal if you’re Nick Clegg, and for the last 2-and-a-half years you’ve tried to ignore the voice in your head telling you the Liberal Democrats are screwed come the next election.

His party remains stuck at around 10-percent in opinion polls – many voters are still punishing his party for going into coalition with the Conservatives.

And it’s clearly playing on his mind. A leaked Lib Dem memo urged the party to launch “sustained attacks” on the Tories.

Quite a change from that Rose Garden love-in in 2010.

David Cameron’s worried too, with Boris Johnson lurking in the background, just in case the Tories can’t pull off an outright win in 2015.

But it could be Nick Clegg who rides to his rescue….

Let’s pretend it’s May 2015, election day, and we’re in the constituency of Cornwall North.

Held in 2010 by the Lib Dems with 22,500 votes, 3,000 ahead of the Conservatives. Labour finished fourth, with just 2,000 votes – the party’s support collapsing by more than half compared to 2005.

Where did those Labour voters go? Almost certainly to the Lib Dems, in the hope of keeping out the Tories.

And come 2015, those left-leaning Lib Dem voters will probably remain furious about the coalition, and they’ll switch back to Labour.

Let’s say 1-in-5 Lib Dem votes in Cornwall North switch back to Labour in 2015.

That would take them to 18,000 votes, 1,500 behind the Conservatives. Enough for the Tories to gain the seat without gaining a single extra vote.

There are quite a few seats like Cornwall North, where Labour are also-rans, and many of their voters have switched to the Lib Dems.

Switching back could in the end help the Conservatives win a dozen or more seats – probably not the outcome those voters wanted.

But how many Labour voters would be willing to hold their nose and stick with the Lib Dems after 5 coalition years?

You can understand why Nick Clegg’s so keen to turn his fire on the Tories, but will anyone believe him? Is he the Liberal Democrats’ biggest problem?

It’s another hypothetical, but could the party’s best hope be a change of leader before the next election? Perhaps after the 2014 European elections?

Who would take that poisoned chalice? Well, quite a few people at the top of Labour still think they could do business with Vince Cable…