Come with me into a parallel universe, where most of the events of the past four-and-half years have not happened, a general election is approaching, and the Liberal Democrats are contemplating almost two dozen gains.
In this alternative reality, the electoral tide is not flowing against the UK’s third party for the first time since 1979.
Here are the seats that represent the Lib Dems’ notional top 20 targets. In a nice bit of symmetry, 10 are held by the Tories and 10 by Labour. In our alternative reality, the party ought to benefit from 12 of the 20 being uber-marginals, i.e. seats with majorities under 1,000.
Those Tory targets would all fall to the Lib Dems on a swing of 2.6%. The Labour targets would all fall on a swing of 4%:
Back in the real world, I don’t see any of these seats changing hands.
In my profiles of the UK’s regional election battlegrounds, I’m finding myself increasingly prefacing reference to the Lib Dems’ targets with the words “on paper”.
I have to be fair to the party and acknowledge the existence of many seats where they came a strong second place in 2010. But at the same time I feel obliged to underscore the unlikelihood of them winning any gains whatsoever in 2015.
And they won’t. It’s a prospect that simply doesn’t seem to have any chance of coming to pass. They have more or less admitted as such, speaking of treating 2015 not as a nationwide contest but as “57 by-elections”.
That’s certainly a pragmatic approach, if somewhat defeatist. I wonder what kind of message it sends to the Liberal Democrats standing in the UK’s other hundreds of constituencies.