Threat level high? You bet.
A very intersting document has been fired round the internet in record time over the weekend - it is a very carefully researched discussion document from a group called 'Liberal Vision' taking a dispassionate look at the Lib Dems chances seat-by-seat in England at the next election.
The piece was written by a group of Lib Dems keen to see their party invade traditional Tory territory (tax cuts, efficiency savings etc) in an attempt to stall what they call the 'Cameron Effect' which will otherwise, they claim, decimate their current representation in Westminster, knocking them down to a rump of 20 or 30 seats from their current 63.
Where I think they have got it spot-on is the threat level represented by a resurgent Conservative party. For the first time I can remember a group of Lib Dems are prepared to admit that the 'great leap forward' by their party from all Lib Dem MP's being able to fit into a small minibus in 1997 to their 60+ number today was largely a result of deep unhappiness with the Tory regime of 1992-1997 and not some sea change in British politics. They extrapolate quite correctly that as this situation unwinds these gains from 1997 and 2001 will be lost and the Lib Dems risk going right back to square one.
And of course to rank Torbay as one of the most threatened seats was also spot on. The 13% swing against the Lib Dems in the local elections was the highest of any of the Lib Dem seats surveyed and caps the 4.9% swing against them in 2005; itself amongst the biggest in any Lib Dem constituency.
Where I completely disagree with the report is the suggestion that the answer to this is to become Tory Lite (actually Tory Heavy, we have avoided any pledges to cut taxes early fearing that the public finances may be in too much of a mess by the time we get control) and hoping that in doing so they can snaffle enough Conservative voters to keep us out.
If you study the history of Lib Dem gains a lot more closely you can see that in order to hold on to any of these once Conservative strongholds the LD's need Labour defectors - they depend on thousands of Labour tactical votes to hold the seats, and presumably those voters aren't going to support an MP who is backing Tory calls for lower tax and less public spending.
The front cover of the report is particularly appropriate, the 'Liberal Vision' is the sun setting...