Perhaps Nick Clegg is right to feel optimistic

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Have the pundits almost universally got it wrong about the fate of the Liberal Democrats after the general election?

And is Nick Clegg correct in his upbeat message, scoffing at the nay-sayers and insisting that the party “is here to stay” and will do better than anyone thinks?

Almost every political grandee in the land (excluding the Lib Dems themselves) say they expect the party to be blown off the political landscape on May 7, and that Clegg himself might find he’s rejected by the voters of Sheffield Hallam.

In short, this offshoot of the once-great Liberal Party of William Ewart Gladstone would be consigned to oblivion.

But the pundits have more often been wrong than right about their political predictions.

Remember the last general election in 2010? Pretty well everyone then, including the opponents of the Lib Dems, forecast (if reluctantly) that the party would gain seats on that occasion.

But they actually lost five seats – thus confounding them all. When the exit poll was revealed, quoting this figure, I remember David Steel, a former Liberal leader, saying: “I just do not believe that.”

But he was wrong and the exit poll was spot on, not just about the Liberal Democrats, but about the performances of the other political parties as well. So perhaps Nick Clegg’s optimism is not so misplaced. (That said, I would not be tempted to put my life savings on his rose-tinted predictions.)

There is widespread dismay among Tory back-benchers about what they consider the Government’s policy – or lack of it – on defence. Most people would expect a Conservative-led Government to pay more attention than has been the case to the defence of the realm.

Yet the Government’s policy of cutting back on defence is infuriating many Conservatives who believe that the party’s general election manifesto should include a solemn pledge to increase spending on defence. They say that this should not just be a key policy of any Tory Government, but THE key policy.

Yet top military brass – who know more than most about defending the nation – are reduced to protesting that the Government is short-changing defence.

Even the White House and the Pentagon have publicly expressed alarm and concern at what they consider Britain’s down-grading of defence.