Nick Clegg 2011 resolute Nick Clegg already has quite a lot on his plate, what with activists likely to pass unhelpful motions (£) at their spring conference this weekend and angry students reportedly threatening to kidnap him.

But to add to his woes, his members – once the past masters at by-election campaigns – are raising serious questions about the party's less than impressive effort in the recent Barnsley Central by-election.

In today's new edition of Liberal Democrat News, Colchester MP Bob Russell writes:

"I think the party membership deserves an explanation as to why such a dismal effort was put into the Barnsley by-election which, not surprisingly, gave us such as dismal result and consequent damage to the party's image as we prepare for the local elections in May… Winning Barnsley was never an option. But then, nor was winning Norwich North – but great effort was put into that by-election to hold our position."

And Surrey party member Jamie Sharpley adds:

"I thought it odd that during the period of the Oldham by-election I received regular requests for help, while for the Barnsley by-election there was a long silence. It clearly had been decided to treat the two campaigns differently… The press was bound to look at the entrails of any by-election, in order to be able to write that the party had performed disastrously. In Barnsley we had been second and came sixth… The lesson probably is that for the time being we should attempt to commit the resources for every Westminster by-election that are needed to have at least as good a result as the last time the seat was contested, rather than determining how hard to fight on the basis of whether a seat is a good prospect."

If they're to do that, they may need to go on something of a fundraising drive, after this week's news that the Lib Dems are in the red for the first time in history and having to abandon their party HQ for something smaller and cheaper…