Has the LibDem meltdown finished?

In one sense, the LibDem crisis can only get worse. The 13% opinion poll showing is the worst for years, and that was before Simon Hughes was caught in the latest lies and hypocrisy scandal.

It is unlikely that the defections to the Conservatives are over, and perhaps they have hardly begun. However, the biggest short term risk has, perhaps, abated.

The most likely defectors in the short-term are the Orange Book liberals, who have little chance of seeing the LibDems adopt their agenda and every chance of being welcomed by the Conservatives. A few days ago, Simon Hughes was front-runner for the leadership, and his election could have sparked a tsunami of defections. Now it seems unlikely that he can win.

But could defections run in the other direction? With Hughes decisively defeated, could we see the left of the party running to join Labour or the Greens. Last time LibDem poll ratings were in single figures was 1988/89 and it was the Greens who benefitted. When they drop to single figures again next week, could we see another Green resurgence?

Last time the council seats being contested this May were fought the LibDems didn't do too badly, making a net gain of two council for control of 15 and gaining slightly more seats than they lost. Their position has eroded considerably since then, and they now control just nine councils, even though the 2004 local elections put them in second place to the Conservatives. (The Euro-elections on the same day put them in fourth place). Defending their 2002 gains this year will be tough, even with a new leader in place by then.

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