Paddy Ashdown's Liberal Democrats could be "left politically and electorally high and dry" at the next general election, according to an academic analysis of last month's Staffordshire South East by-election.
"Never before had a Liberal candidate won less than 5 per cent of the vote in an English by-election where the seat was being defended by the Conservatives," warns John Curtice, senior lecturer in politics at Strathclyde University.
Labour won the by-election with a majority of 14,000. Mr Curtice says Labour's rise in the opinion polls since Tony Blair became leader in 1994 has been at the expense of the Lib Dems.His analysis lends weight to critics of Mr Ashdown's move away from the concept of "equidistance" between Labour and Conservative parties, and the objective of defeating the Tories by any means.Mr Curtice writes in the week's Parliamentary Brief that "this attitude looks dangerously complacent".
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies