Lib Dems work round the clock to cope with life in the spotlight

With scant resources, a buoyed-up party embraces the spirit of DIY electioneering
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Indy Politics

Outside the Liberal Democrat headquarters, hidden away in a sleepy corner of Westminster, there is little to suggest that the party stands on the brink of an unprecedented election breakthrough, save for the presence of a solitary cameraman shooting clips of the Victorian townhouse.

Once inside, there are giveaway signs that a party organisation usually forced to use its meagre resources to drum up interest is working overtime to cope with life in the spotlight. "We're extremely busy because of all the attention," explains a frantic receptionist to the latest caller. "Can I put you through to another number?"

Up on the first floor, the pressure on its skeleton media operation is in evidence in the wake of Nick Clegg's leadership debate performance. A rota designed to give under-siege press officers a day off each week has been torn up. On the wall, a countdown calendar bleakly reminds them that there are 17 days left of the campaign. Tell-tale packets of cigarettes, helping the staff through the busier and longer days, sit on the table of a well-attended balcony.

"I had planned to take Saturday off. It soon became obvious that was not going to happen," said one senior member of the back-room team. "In terms of the broadcasters, we are at expected levels as they have to give us coverage. What has really changed is the press coverage." That has pushed the slender team to work even longer hours. Despite increasing donations, they are not in a position to hire more people. "We need people who we know can do the job," says one of the team. "It's no time to start changing things."

Demands have become even more overbearing on the campaign trail, with Mr Clegg's gatekeepers having to deal with the multiplying interview requests. The press pack on his battle bus has been growing and the satellite trucks appearing with greater frequency since Thursday. Mr Clegg claims not to have noticed: "I don't go around counting satellite trucks," he said last week.

The enthusiasm generated by the party's boost in popularity has appealed to the DIY spirit of electioneering that the Liberal Democrats have specialised in during past elections. Two of the party's internet campaign team had been busy over the weekend. After listening to Gordon Brown support almost everything Mr Clegg said during the debate, they returned to the office wearing T-Shirts declaring: "I Agree With Nick."

A similar laissez-faire attitude has been taken up by the army of Lib Dem volunteers battling to make breakthroughs in their constituencies. Even as the early polling was coming in after the debate on Thursday night, an imaginative bunch in the party's Holborn and St Pancras office were coming up with ways to capitalise.

By midnight, they had started the presses rolling to make the most of headlines lauding Mr Clegg's performance. Two hours later, they were armed with 2,500 leaflets to hand out to an impressed public. The leaflet, bearing the legend, "Like What You Saw?" was then distributed outside all Tube stations in the constituency.

Senior Lib Dems have been seeking free political consultancy from big-hitters in the US. Following Mr Clegg's debate victory, a friend of the leader put in a call to Howard Dean, pioneer of online political fundraising and the developer of the "50-state strategy", which saw his Democratic Party fight in states dismissed as Republican strongholds in the past.

Mr Dean's said Mr Clegg could build on his success by not "getting cocky" and backing up his strong appearance at the next debate. Mr Dean also rang Mr Clegg to congratulate him over the weekend. It is a little early for the Lib Dems to seek advice from Mr Dean's Democratic counterpart, Barack Obama, on how to run a government – but there are still two debates to go.