Danny Alexander speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference last year in Glasgow. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Danny Alexander: Lib Dems could be biggest party by 2025

What the Lib Dem minister told a recent parliamentary party away day.

From the oustside, it might appear as if the Lib Dems have few reasons for optimism. Since entering government, the party has lost a third of its members, 1,500 of its councillors, all but one of its MEPs, nine by-election deposits (most recently in Newark) and as much as two-thirds of its previous opinion poll support. The Tories, by contrast, have retained almost all of their 2010 vote share and have consistently exceeded expectations in local elections. As Angela Merkel told David Cameron when he asked her what was it like to lead a coalition government shortly before the 2010 general election: "The little party always gets smashed!"

But with both the Tories and Labour doubtful of winning a majority in 2015 (see Marcus Roberts's piece in tomorrow's NS for more on this), the Lib Dems console themselves with the thought that they will once again act as kingmakers in a "balanced parliament". Some are even more sanguine. In my politics column tomorrow, I reveal that Danny Alexander told a recent parliamentary party away day in Wyboston, Bedfordshire, that the Lib Dems could be the largest party in British politics by 2025. "We were all rolling our eyes, even Clegg's spads," one of those present told me. "He'd really been drinking the Kool-Aid". David Steel's 1981 exhortation to Liberal activists to "Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government" looks modest by comparison.

But while Alexander's ambitions might seem unrealistic for a party that could struggle to win more votes than Ukip in 2015 (and we await his ten-year plan with interest), what can the Lib Dems do to avoid being continually "smashed"? That's the question I try to answer in my column.

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.