One consequence of the Liberal Democrats doing particularly badly at the 2015 election would be a downgrading of their status from third party of British politics to fourth – or even fifth.
If the Lib Dems lose enough MPs, their total could end up below that belonging to smaller parties: the ‘Others’, as they are usually dubbed.
In 2010 the others between them managed to win 29 MPs. Here’s a reminder of how that compared with the large parties:
I think there’s a very strong chance that come the election the collected total of seats won by small parties will outrank those won by the Liberal Democrats.
Let’s be generous to the Lib Dems and say they will lose only 17 of their MPs in 2015, bringing their total down from 57 to 40.
Now let’s say three of those are won by the SNP (the rest going to Labour and the Tories). This would boost the SNP’s own tally from six to nine. If we assume all the smaller parties retain all of their respective seats, the SNP’s gains would boost the collected total of the others from 29 to 32.
Douglas Carswell ought to hold his by-election win in Clacton for Ukip, and George Galloway should do the same in Bradford West for Respect. That’s two more for the others, who are now up to 34.
It wouldn’t be hard to see this number rise further and overtake the Lib Dems’ notional total of 40. A couple more Ukip gains from the Tories plus five SNP gains from Labour and you’d be up to 41.
It could even go higher, if the SNP does anywhere near as well as the latest polls suggest and take two dozen or so constituencies from Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
One scenario would see the combined Scottish and Welsh nationalist bloc of MPs being large enough by itself to outrank the Liberal Democrats. It’s just about feasible, if Nick Clegg’s party tumbles to around 25 MPs and the SNP gain up to 20 more seats from Labour and the Lib Dems.
Here’s an even more extreme outcome:
Nationalists (SNP and Plaid Cymru) 35
Others (including Ukip) 25
Lib Dems 15
This would be a humiliation for the Liberal Democrats. It would also be an arithmetical nightmare for Labour and the Tories, neither of whom would be able to form a working majority with just the Lib Dems.
But it would be a moment of triumph for those often-overlooked ‘Others’.