The next general election will produce a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition government, the Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has predicted.
Davey let slip the forecast while speaking at a conference organised by the left-leaning Lib Dem Social Liberal Forum group in Shoreditch, East London, on Saturday. His comments offer an insight into the strategic thinking of the party leadership as May 2015 draws near.
Having given a speech about what the Lib Dems had achieved in the field of environmental policy over the last four years, Davey was asked how he would approach coalition negotiations in 2015.
He said: "If we were negotiating again and I hope we will be, but probably with the Labour Party this time ... that would be my prediction, I think because we are used to coalition politics, we would negotiate even better."
Davey, who is seen to be on the right of the party, offered no criticism of how Clegg negotiated the current Lib Dem coalition with the Conservatives and said the deputy prime minister did the "right thing" by agreeing the deal he did.
With less than ten months to go until the general election, the Lib Dems are suffering from dire poll ratings. However Clegg hopes he will be able to cling on to a substantial number of MPs and may still hold the balance of power in another hung parliament.
The deputy prime minister has indicated the Lib Dems would be willing to work with either the Tories or the Labour Party, but has studiously avoided stating either a preference or making a prediction.
Some Labour figures are open to the idea of a coalition, however other members of the shadow cabinet are pushing Ed Miliband to reject any deal and try and govern as a minority government should he fall short of an overall majority.
Davey also defended the decision to spread Lib Dem ministers throughout most of the Whitehall departments rather than try and take total control of a few. The Kingston and Surbiton MP, who took over as energy secretary from Chris Huhne in February 2012, said having Tory departments and Lib Dem departments would have led to "more rows".
Speaking about his relations with the Conservatives, Davey said David Cameron and the chancellor were opposed to the green policies he was pursuing at the Department for Energy and Climate Change - which under the coalition has always been run by the Lib Dems. "I have been the department most under attack from the Tories and George Osborne, because they hate what we are doing," he said
Last week Cameron engineered a major ministerial reshuffle, however Clegg decided to hold off on any changes to the Lib Dems in government. One of the prime minister's big decisions was to fire environment secretary Owen Paterson and replace him with Liz Truss.
Davey, who made it clear his dislike of Paterson's climate change-sceptic views, told Lib Dem activists he did not know what to expect from Defra under Truss. "I don't know quite what she is going to do," he said. "She was actually a Lib Dem, she was actually a member of the Labour Party."
And he said he took it as a "slight compliment" that Cameron had decided to parachute in two well regarded Tory MPs into DECC to, in his mind, keep an eye on him.
Davey said: "He put two new ministers in from George Osborne's private fiefdom, Matt Hancock and Amber Rudd. They are really trying to shadow me and box me in, so far they have failed."
The energy secretary was speaking to Lib Dem members after party president Tim Farron, a leading candidate for party leader once Clegg steps down, had set out his views about how the party should position itself.
Farron warned that the Lib Dems would face "annihilation" if the public thought the party was only interested in clinging to power at the expense of its own agenda. "There is no political market for a centre right laissez faire liberal party amongst the British electorate, or for a party that sets itself up as the permanent see-saw coalition partner," he said.