Torture for Clegg
"The electorate have invented an instrument of excruciating torture for the Liberal Democrats".
Thus a senior party figure summed up their predicament.
The maths, he went on, don't work one way - a Lib-Lab coalition could only have a working majority in alliance with all the unionists and all the nationalists. Hardly a recipe for stability.
The instincts don't work the other - few relish the prospect of getting into bed with the Conservatives who most Lib Dems grew up opposing if not loathing.
They should not complain too much. Their position proves that less can, indeed, be more. Less (OK, fewer) MPs will produce what Simon Hughes called this morning the "best opportunity in 35 years" to achieve some of their goals.
Senior Lib Dems I've spoken to believe that the Tories are sincere in their negotiations although they regard David Cameron's opening offer as little more than agreeing where possible, applying the Tory manifesto where not combined with a re-heat of Ted Heath, and later, Tony Blair's plan to look at electoral reform. They will push for more.
They will, no doubt, have heard the sabre rattling from the man who wants to be seen as the standard bearer of the Tory grass roots - Liam Fox - who declared today that his party's "collective leadership" (note those words Mr Cameron) would not be "held to ransom".
My hunch is that a Tory/Lib Dem arrangement can be formed but not a coalition which both parties would find too hard to stomach. The reason is that both parties' leaderships have a shared interest in avoiding an early second election. The Lib Dems are shell shocked by the extent to which their dreams of an electoral breakthrough were smashed and have no money for anther campaign. The Tories are surprised by Labour's electoral resilience and do not fancy getting to grips with the deficit whilst constantly looking over their shoulders at the electorate.
Oh, and one other thing. Lib Dem votes in Parliament may prove more reliable for David Cameron than restless Tory backbenchers.
1509: Liam Fox insists that he was not firing a shot across his leader's bows when he spoke of collective leadership but was, merely, comparing the speed with which the Tories could act and the slow, consultative processes of the Lib Dems.