Lib Dem campaign euphoria fades as high hopes fail to become reality

The Liberal Democrats looked set to suffer a more nervous election night than they had anticipated after early indications suggested the party had not managed to secure the major electoral breakthrough it had hoped for in the run-up to the ballot.

Early results appeared to back up a shock exit poll result suggesting the party was far from securing the second place that had once looked possible, largely squandering the surge in support it had enjoyed during the campaign. The high hopes of Liberal Democrat staffers and members packed into the National Liberal Club, in Westminster, were dented early on in the evening as the party failed to win the seat first on its target list. It also suffered the shock loss of Montgomeryshire, which had been represented by Lembit Opik, with a massive swing to the Tories.

Senior figures had argued the party was set to achieve its record result in the run up to election day, aiming to exploit Nick Clegg's success in the leaders' debates to build on the 63 seats it held going into the election. But a surprise exit poll released at 10pm last night suggested that a fall in support could even see it lose two seats.

Spinners for the party immediately suggested that they had been expecting the exit poll to underestimate their vote. The party's big hitters attacked it as untrustworthy. Vince Cable, its Treasury spokesman, said the poll was "very strange", adding they had proved to be "horribly wrong" in past elections. Lord Ashdown, a former leader and an adviser on the campaign, said the poll was "inaccurate" as it had not taken postal votes into account.

However, early jitters intensified after the poll's findings seemed to be reflected in the first result of the night, as the party's share of the vote fell by 0.6 per cent in Houghton and Sunderland South, a Labour stronghold. At just before 2am, it learned that it had failed spectacularly to win its number one target seat, Guildford. It had needed a swing of 0.09 per cent to snatch the constituency from the Tories. But the Conservatives comfortably held on to the seat, earning a seven per cent swing from the Liberal Democrats. However, it did gain Eastbourne from the Tories, its number seven target.

Conversely, key seats in the South-west later suggested it was performing well against a resurgent Tory party. It held on to Torbay, a seat targeted by the Conservatives. Adrian Sanders secured a 1.1 per cent swing from the Tories in winning the seat with a 4,000 majority. David Heath held on in Somerton and Frome, where he was defending a wafer thin majority of 802, earning a 0.9 per cent swing from the Tories.

Chris Huhne held Eastleigh by less than one thousand votes, while Jeremy Browne saw off a strong Tory challenge in the ultra-marginal seat of Taunton Deane. Party members packed into the National Liberal Club cheered as their MPs in tight seats in the South-west held on, but expressed disbelief at Mr Opik's loss. "We feel like it must be an anomaly," said one.

As more results trickled in, it appeared that a major breakthrough for the Liberal Democrats that would see it move above Labour into second place was not emerging. A target seat of Durham was held by Labour, with Mr Clegg's party suffering a slight decline in support. Behind the scenes, there had been concerns about faltering support in the final days leading up to the ballot. Predictions that the party was "on the verge of its record result" had disappeared during the week as opinion polls began to show the Liberal Democrats had fallen back to third place, behind Labour.

It provoked fears that the boom in support could turn into a slow and steady decline. One campaign chief told The Independent yesterday that it "may well be the case" that the constant calls from the other parties about the effect of voting for the Liberal Democrats may have influenced voters. "The Tories have been shouting from every orifice, 'Vote Lib Dem – get Brown," they said. "Labour has been saying a vote for us will deliver a Cameron government. They've done this with some success in the past."

They were also hoping that what looked like a high turnout meant they had won over many voters who had given up on politics with their pledge to deliver radical changes in the tax system and campaign for voting reform. However, they conceded that the high number of voters was a double-edged sword. "Looking at my own constituency, it really does look like high numbers are coming out," said one senior Liberal Democrat MP. "If that means all those young voters who Nick has filled with enthusiasm have come to vote, it's great for us. But if it means Labour has managed to mobilise its core support at the last minute, it could work against us."

Last night, senior Liberal Democrats said even holding on to the 63 MPs they had going into the election would have been viewed as a good result when the campaign was officially launched on 6 April. "When the election was called, all the pundits were saying that we would lose seats and our vote would go down – that was the narrative about us," said one senior member of Mr Clegg's team. "We always had faith in Nick would do well, but the extent to which he has cut through has been incredible."

Oxford East, a constituency requiring just a 0.37 per cent swing to be seized by the Liberal Democrats, was held by Labour.

News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Armstrong, left, and Bain's writing credits include Peep Show, Fresh Meat, and The Old Guys
TVThe pair have presented their view of 21st-century foibles in shows such as Peep Show and Fresh Meat
Arts and Entertainment
Keys to success: Andrew and Julian Lloyd Webber
arts + entsMrs Bach had too many kids to write the great man's music, says Julian Lloyd Webber
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMan City manager would have loved to have signed Argentine
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site on Friday

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Sport
Enner Valencia
footballStriker has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame via winning the title with ‘The Blue Ballet’ in Ecuador
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities