Nick Clegg, leaves his home in west London on May 23, 2014, a day following local council elections. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The worst night yet for the Lib Dems - but Clegg will survive

Clegg is unwilling to fall on his sword and the party isn't prepared to force him out.
 

In a competitive field, last night was the worst the Lib Dems have suffered since entering the coalition. The party lost all but one of its 11 MEPs and finished in fifth place behind the Greens. That Nick Clegg fought a spirited campaign, hailing the Lib Dems as the "party of in" and taking on Nigel Farage in debate, makes the result all the more painful. Those in the party who called in advance for his resignation will feel vindicated.

But my sense is that Clegg is likely to live to fight another day. Lib Dem grandees such as Paddy Ashdown and Ming Campbell, who could have told him that the game was up, have moved swiftly to shore up his position in media interviews this morning. The rebellion is still limited to just two MPs - John Pugh and Adrian Sanders - and just 283 members (0.66 per cent of the membership) have signed the petition calling for him to go.

With Clegg unwilling to fall on his sword, he would have to be forced out, and there are few Lib Dem MPs with an appetite for regicide at this stage of the electoral cycle. Vince Cable, the most plausible caretaker leader, has no intention of wielding the knife and other potential replacements, such as Tim Farron, are wisely biding their time until after the general election. Far better to begin the hard work of reconstruction after May 2015 than to take over a party heading for its worst election result in more than 20 years.

Then there is the fact that for all the Lib Dems' woes, they have an increasing chance of holding the balance of power in another hung parliament (with their vote holding up well in some Tory-facing areas). So long as Clegg is able to dangle that prize in front of his party, he will have the momentum he requires to stay in the job.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

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