Lib Dems Cling To Eastleigh Lead Despite Rennard Allegations, But Tank Nationally

If any more evidence was needed that the Lib Dem by-election machine is bomb-proof, a poll out today conducted in the wake of the Lord Rennard sex-scandal shows Nick Clegg's candidate is still on course for victory.

A survey conducted by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft puts the Lib Dem's Mike Thornton on 33% and the Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings on 28%.

The survey appears to show that Tory hopes that the accusations levelled against the Lib Dem by-election guru would help them grab the lead have been dashed.

By contrast a national poll conducted by ComRes for The Independent shows support for the Lib Dems tanking, with the deputy prime minister's party dropping to fourth place behind Ukip with just 8%.

If repeated at a general election the Lib Dems would lose 39 seats and leave them with just 18 MPs.

Aside from the two-horse-race at the top in Eastleigh, the story of Thursday night will also be how well Nigel Farage's Ukip perform.

It's candidate Diane James is in a strong third with 21%, ahead of Labour's John O'Farell who languishes in fourth place on 12%.

Writing on The HuffingtonPost UK on Tuesday, Farage said his party was gaining votes from people who had not voted for years.

"Ukip are picking up support across the spectrum. Only a third comes from former Tory voters, the rest we are harvesting from Labour, Lib Dems and most promisingly, from people who haven't voted in years," he said.

"I put £100 on Ukip last Friday, at odds of 25-1, and I am pleased to say we are running well. Maybe Eastleigh will be the by election where Ukip makes history. I really hope so."

Ukip's performance has led to suggestions Farage should have stood himself in order to leverage his celebrity to increase the vote share.

However Andrew Hawkins, from ComRes, suggests the party's poll rating in Eastleigh would be at its current 21% irrespective of who the candidate is.

"To be sure, Nigel Farage would be a more recognisable name but over the past 18 months Ukip have gradually as a party replaced the Lib Dems as the most disruptive and challenging force in by-elections," he said.

'Most interesting of all will be the switching between Ukip and the other parties; if the Conservatives lose Eastleigh it will almost certainly be because of Ukip's popularity there. The question is whether the same will be true of the party denying David Cameron a further term as PM after 2015."