Nick Clegg leaves Hall Park Centre in Sheffield after voting in the local and European elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why both the Tories and Labour need Clegg to survive

Cameron fears the collapse of the coalition. Labour fears a more popular centre-left leader. 

If the Lib Dems lose most or all of their MEPs in the European elections, and endure a similar thrashing in the locals, there will be calls from some in the party for Nick Clegg to resign as leader. With a year to go until the general election, there is still just enough time for someone else to take the reins and try and revive the party's fortunes. 

But for several reasons, even in the event of a complete wipeout, Clegg is likely to survive. First, Lib Dems activists and MPs have been buoyed by the party's unashamedly pro-European campaign and will regard any defeat as an honourable one. "No one can fault Nick's efforts," one told me.

Second, Clegg's political godfather Paddy Ashdown has already moved to shore up his position, warning potential rebels that they will have to answer to him if they attack Clegg after the results. The Lib Dem leader's decision to appoint his mentor as the party's general election chair is regarded as a shrewd one. "Every time there's a crisis, Paddy's on the news channel", a party source notes. Just as Peter Mandelson came to Gordon Brown's rescue in times of trouble, so Ashdown serves as Clegg's political life support machine. 

Third, the most obvious pre-election replacement for Clegg - Vince Cable - has seen his star wane over the last year, while other alternative leaders - Tim Farron, Danny Alexander, Jeremy Browne - are biding their time until after May 2015. They have no desire to lead the party into the toughest general election it has faced for decades. 

But Lib Dem calculations aside, it's worth noting that both the Conservatives and Labour have an interest in Clegg's survival. 

For the Tories, the danger is that Clegg's deposition would lead to the collapse of the coalition and an early general election. While some of David Cameron's MPs might welcome such an outcome, the PM certainly would not. Indeed, he and his staff are already preparing a "Save Clegg" operation for the aftermath of the elections, with a series of Lib Dem "policy wins" planned for the Queen's Speech on 4 June. 

For Labour, the danger is that any replacement for Clegg would succeed where he has failed and revive the party's fortunes. As I've often noted, if Labour is to win in 2015, one of its most important tasks will be maintaining the support of the 20-25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems who have defected. "We want to wound Clegg, not kill him," one Labour MP told me. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservative majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make significant gains. 

Aware of this, some Tory MPs have long hoped that Clegg will be replaced by a more left-wing figure such as Cable or Farron who could persuade the party's former supporters to reutrn home. But fortunately for Labour, their wish is likely to be denied. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.