Nick Clegg speaks at Bloomberg's central London headquarters on June 9, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lord Ashcroft's poll undermines the Lib Dems' optimism

The party would lose seven of its 11 most marginal seats to the Tories. 

For years, as their national poll ratings have remained stubbornly low, the Lib Dems have reassured their members that their vote is holding up in those seats where they are incumbent, particularly where the Conservatives are the main opposition. The Eastleigh by-election, in which the party comfortably held off a challenge from Ukip and the Tories, was heralded as proof of this. With the Conservatives in second place in 37 of their 56 seats, the party is confident that tactical voting by left-leaning voters, combined with their MPs' local standing, will allow them to retain around 40 of their constituencies. 

But Lord Ashcroft's new poll of Tory-Lib Dem marginals suggests such optimism may be misplaced. Based on current voting intentions, it found that the yellows would lose seven of their most marginal Tory-facing seats (see table below) to their coalition partners. Surprisingly to some, this is partly due to the large number of voters (13 per cent) the party has lost to Ukip. But as I've noted before, the Farageistes have replaced the Lib Dems as the natural party of protest for voters who dislike both the government and the opposition. 

It's important to remember, as Ashcroft always does, that this is a snapshot, not a prediction. Around half of voters are open to changing their mind, offering the Lib Dems to chance to recover lost ground as the general election approaches. Those who have defected to Labour, for instance, may baulk at the prospect of allowing a Tory in through the back door. But at the very least, it suggests that the party should be anxious about its position in these seats. 

With the Lib Dems likely to struggle in Labour-facing areas, most notably London and Scotland (the pollster Lewis Baston predicts that they could lose 10 of their 11 seats in the country), the reasons for optimism are growing ever harder to find. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Tim Farron sacks former MP David Ward

The Liberal Democrat leader said Ward's remarks made him "unfit" to stand. 

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has sacked David Ward as a candidate declaring him "unfit to represent the party". 

Ward, who lost his seat in Bradford East in 2015, once said "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians". At the time, the comments caused outcry, and Ward faced disciplinary procedures - later adjourned.

Farron, though, doesn't intend to revisit this particular episode. After news broke that Ward had been re-selected to stand as a candidate, he initially said it was not the leader's job to select candidates, but hours later had intervened to stop it. 

In a short statement, he said: "I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united. David Ward is unfit to represent the party and I have sacked him."

Although Ward has been involved in anti-racism organisations, he has courted controversy with his conflation of Jews with Israel, his questioning of Israel's right to exist, and his tweet in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, in which French Jews were targeted, that "Je suis #Palestinian".

While the anti-Semitism row threatened to knock the Lib Dem's early election campaign off course, Farron's decision may help him avoid the ongoing saga haunting the rival Labour party. In April, Labour decided not to expel Ken Livingstone for his claim that Adolf Hitler supported Zionism "before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews".

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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