Lib Dems 'confident' despite by-election setbacks
Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has denied his party faces heavy losses in next year's general election, despite it suffering one of its worst ever by-election results since 1945.
Mr Davey also brushed aside claims the UK Independence Party (UKIP) had overtaken the Lib Dems as Britain's third largest party.
The party lost its deposit for the tenth time in a by-election since 2010, coming a distant fifth in Clacton.
It received just 483 votes.
That amounted to 1.3% of the votes cast in the Clacton by-election, forced by the defection of former Conservative MP Douglas Carswell to UKIP in August.
Professor John Curtice, of the University of Strathclyde, told the BBC it was also the worst electoral result for any party in government in the post-war era.
Professor Curtice told the BBC that the Liberal Party - which merged with the SDP in 1988 to form the modern-day Liberal Democrats - scored just 312 votes, or 1.2%, of the vote in the 1948 Glasgow Camlachie by-election.
Nick Clegg has not commented publicly on the party's performance but Mr Davey told the BBC: "This was never going to be Eastleigh where the Liberal Democrats beat UKIP."
"We were never expected to be in this race but we didn't expect the Labour party and the Conservative party to do quite so badly.
"And for Labour just clinging on in Heywood and Middleton and for the Conservative party to be so divided and potentially seeing more defections to UKIP this is bad news for Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband."
But when pushed on his own party's chances at next year's general election, and the threat posed by UKIP, Mr Davey said: "The Liberal Democrats have got 57 MPs. We are part of this government and we are delivering across Britain including in Heywood and Middleton and Clacton.
"We have delivered a tax cut taking three million of the lowest paid out of income tax, an £800 tax cut for those on the basic rate of tax and we are promising to do more as we did at our conference.
"So we're confident about the future."
The Liberal Democrats were "doing well" in constituencies they already held, Mr Davey added.
However, a large number of Liberal Democrat seats now look potentially vulnerable given the size of the swing away from party seen in recent by-elections.
In Clacton, the Lib Dems saw their share of the vote decline by 12% while in Heywood and Middleton the party's vote share plummeted by 18%.
That would put in danger key marginal seats such as Solihull, Dorset Mid and Poole North, Norwich South, Bradford East and Wells, where the party has a majority of less than 1,000.
Most political observers expect the Lib Dems to lose about 20 seats in the 2015 election although senior party figures have insisted the party will do better than expected and that incumbent MPs can defy swings in national polls.
In Thursday's other by-election in Heywood and Middleton, the Lib Dems came fourth and managed to just get the required 5% of the vote to hold onto their deposit.
The party's candidate, Anthony Smith, received 1,457 votes equal to 5.1% of the vote.