When I spoke to Nick Clegg at last year's LibDem conference he was very keen to emphasise that he didn't mind taking political risks. In fact, he seemed extraordinarily keen to do so. His tax announcement was certainly evidence of that. His willingness to speculate about post election scenarios is another. This set me thinking.
There seems to be a consensus among political analysts that the LibDems will lose seats to the Tories at the next election, predominantly in the South West. I too think this will happen, although I think the power of incumbency will keep those losses to single figures.
One of the key Tory messages in the next election campaign should be that a vote for the LibDems (or indeed any party other than the Tories) is a vote for Gordon Brown, and that the only way to oust him is to vote Conservative.
There is a way, however, for the LibDems to minimise the effect of that strategy in the South. If Nick Clegg were to announce that under no circumstances would the LibDems enter into a coalition to keep Brown in office, or vote to sustain a minority Labour government, he might well retain many of the 'soft LibDems' who are thinking of voting Tory.
But it would be a huge political risk. For in northern seats Labour would campaign on a slogan of Vote LibDem and get a Tory.
In the end, this comes down to crude electoral arithmetic. If Chris Rennard believes the LibDems can win more seats in the North than they could lose in the south, Clegg won't take the risk. If, on the other hand, he calculates the reverse is true, it's just possible that Clegg will take the biggest risk of his career so far.
If he did, I wonder how his MPs and party members would react.