First, to say Labour's rise is at the expense of the Lib Dems and not the Conservatives is plainly wrong. National opinion polls put the Tories in the mid 20s (down 20 points from 1992) and the Lib Dems in the mid to high teens (the same as in 1992).
It is true that the Lib Dem candidate was squeezed in the Staffordshire by-election. This was the consequence of an electorate desperate for change, and now familiar with tactical voting; something which Labour has also suffered from in parliamentary by-elections since 1992, losing their deposits in Christchurch and Newbury.
On equidistance, if Mr Ashdown had left open the possibility of propping up this tired and discredited Government, then he would be seen as standing in the way of the British electorate's overwhelming mood for change. The Lib Dems are now well-positioned to take advantage of this mood.
Lib Dem PPC for
Leyton & Wanstead
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