The Lib Dem retreat

The party will fight fewer seats on 5 May than in 2007 after struggling to find candidates.

Nick Clegg (who was interviewed by Jemima Khan for this week's issue) might be able to shrug off his party's terrible poll ratings (10 per cent in the latest YouGov poll) and insist that "there's only one poll that counts and that's the election". But he'll have more trouble explaining away the news that the Lib Dems will be fighting fewer seats in next month's local elections than they did in the 2007.

Today's Financial Times reports that the party is expected to field candidates in about 58-60 per cent of seats, against 64 per cent four years ago. The party's chief executive, Chris Fox, insists that the Lib Dems are simply concentrating resources on those seats where they are well placed to win.

He says: "This shows no trend whatsoever. We are contesting as many of the seats that matter as we ever had. Whether there are as many paper candidates – or less likely to win candidates – I don't know."

But the ConservativeHome editor, Tim Montgomerie, reveals: "We have been hearing from Conservative councillors that the Liberal Democrats are finding it incredibly hard to find candidates." In Warrington, for instance, where the party has been part of the coalition running the council for the past five years, the Lib Dems are not fielding any candidates in two wards.

The party also plans to leave uncontested wards in East Dorset, East Devon, Hambleton and Waverley. It might be time to recycle some of those "winning here" posters.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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