The Liberal Democrats have dismissed exit poll suggestions that the party could be reduced to just 10 MPs.
But Lord Paddy Ashdown, former party leader and the chair of the Lib Dems' 2015 campaign team, has said he would "eat his hat" if the exit poll's prediction was correct.
"If this poll is correct I will publicly eat my hat on your programme," he told the BBC's Andrew Neil live on air.
SOMEBODY GET PADDY ASHDOWN A HAT, FGS #GE2015— Lauren Laverne (@laurenlaverne) May 7, 2015
Paddy Ashdown promising to eat hat if exit poll is right. Clever bet. To be EXACTLY right is statistically very unliely.— Martin Lewis (@MartinSLewis) May 7, 2015
Lord Ashdown said shortly after that: "I have been offered ten hats on Twitter tonight, not all of them politely I have to to say."
And, of course, Paddy Ashdown's hat already has its own parody Twitter account.
5000 followers? Seriously? In 45 minutes? THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS, BRITAIN— Paddy Ashdown's Hat (@paddys_hat) May 7, 2015
The loss of dozens of Commons seats would heap pressure on Nick Clegg's leadership but party sources insisted the projection did not correspond with the data they had gathered on the ground.
The Lib Dems won 57 seats in 2010, and party sources have suggested they "realistically" expected to return 30 or more MPs despite stubbornly low opinion poll ratings.
Responding to the joint BBC/ITN/Sky exit poll, a Lib Dem spokesman acknowledged the election was "unpredictable" but rejected the findings.
A party spokesman said: "This exit poll does not reflect any of our intelligence from today or in the run-up to polling day. We will wait for the final results."
Clegg's close ally Lord Scriven said the exit poll "looks completely rogue" and added that the YouGov poll, which put the Lib Dems on 10%, gave a "completely different picture".
Speaking to reporters at the Sheffield count in the English Institute of Sport, he refused to be drawn on what the exit poll figures would mean for Clegg's leadership.
"I don't think it is going to be that result," he said.
"We just need to all take a breath, wait until the evening gets a bit more firm and then make decisions about who, what, where and why."
The poll put Conservatives on 316 - just 10 short of the magic number of 326 needed to command an absolute majority in the House of Commons. Labour were forecast to secure just 239 - 17 fewer than their tally at the start of the election campaign - with the Scottish National Party almost achieving a clean sweep of 58 of the 59 seats north of the border.
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