So what was Nick Clegg playing at yesterday morning on Andrew Marr's show? This is exactly what he said:
"It is just preposterous the idea that if a party comes third in the number of votes, it still has somehow the right to carry on squatting in No 10.""A party which has come third - and so millions of people have decided to abandon them - has lost the election spectacularly (and) cannot then lay claim to providing the prime minister of this country."
I suppose in a narrow way he is not ruling out the possibility of forming a coalition with Labour were they to come third. However the price would be for him to be the Prime Minister within any such arrangement. I expect this would be too high a price for Labour to swallow.
So effectively this is ruling out a coalition with Labour. What it is definitely ruling out is Gordon Brown staying on as Prime Minister if his party comes third. And I think this fact highlights what Clegg is doing here.
One of the main Tory attack lines of the last week has been "Vote Clegg, get Brown" with the implication that in a balanced parliament situation, Clegg would somehow automatically go for propping up a Brown led administration. His statements today make it clear that that cannot happen if Labour come third. So what he has done is make it clear that a vote for Clegg is not a vote for Brown. That will have spiked the Tories guns.
But it will also make it that bit easier for people who really dislike Brown and are thinking of voting Lib Dem to do so. This could well have the effect of peeling off soft Tory voters who are only currently thinking of doing so because they want to see the back of Brown. Of course the more that happens, the higher the Lib Dem vote share goes and the more and more likely it becomes for Labour to actually be in third place. The intended effect of the statements today could actually feed into making the political landscape fit the pattern that the statements refer to in a positive feedback loop. Very clever stuff.
And that could be deadly for the Conservatives.