Nick Clegg addresses delegates at the CBI conference on November 10, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dems suffer worst-ever by-election result for a major party

The party won just 0.9 per cent of the vote. But it remains confident that it can win where it is incumbent. 

It is the woes of the Conservatives and Labour that loom largest after last night. The Tories lost Rochester (albeit by a narrower margin than the final polls suggested), a seat they had repeatedly boasted they could win, and Ukip acquired its second MP. Far from losing momentum as the general election approaches, the Farageists are still gaining it. Further Conservative defections, if less likely than some suggest, cannot be ruled out. The schism on the right of British politics looks further than ever from being healed. 

But having long planned to exploit the Tories' tribulations, Labour finds itself embroiled in its own crisis. Emily Thornberry's resignation as shadow attorney general over her ill-judged tweet of a house bearing St George's flags means that disastrous headlines for Ed Miliband are competing this morning with those for David Cameron. 

It would be remiss, however, not to note the apocalyptically bad performance of the Liberal Democrats. They won just 0.9 per cent of the vote in Rochester, a record low for a major party in a by-election (the previous nadir being the 1.4 per cent they polled in Clacton), and lost their deposit for the 11th time in this parliament. A party that once specialised in winning by-elections has become adept at losing them. Activists are only grateful that they narrowly avoided defeat to an independent dominatrix candidate. 

But the party remains more stoical than its subterranean ratings would suggest. While their vote has collapsed to unimaginable lows in some seats, the Lib Dems remain confident that they can hold most of their 56 MPs at the general election. The most significant by-election result for the party in this parliament was that in Eastleigh, where, despite all the obstacles to doing so, they held the seat by nearly 2,000 votes. The victory reflected the Lib Dems' strong local reputation and their still-potent ground game. By maximising the benefits of incumbency, the party could yet retain most of its seats and, even as it falls behind Ukip in vote share, hope to re-enter government in another hung parliament

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.