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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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.