We knew this would be a bad night for the Lib Dems but few predicted it’d be this bad. Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Simon Hughes, Jo Swinson, Ed Davey, Lynne Featherstone and many others have lost their seats. Nick Clegg saw his share of the vote shrink by 13.4% (now having just 2,353 votes more than Labour when he previously had 19,096 more). And the party have (so far) lost their deposit in 234 constituencies at a cost of £117,000. We knew that the party would suffer from their decision to enter government, but the cost they are paying is turning out to be incredibly high.
Not only will the party have a tiny number of MPs (only six have been returned on current results), the party’s support has well and truly collapsed. Again and again voters have rejected the party – as Nick Clegg said, “it has been a cruel and punishing night for the Liberal Democrats”.
With Nick Clegg indicating that he will be stepping down in his speech at the Sheffield Count it seems that the search for new leadership and a new direction will soon begin. There will be significant soul searching within the party as they reassess their position in British politics and rethink the offer they are making to British voters.
Given the loss of so many prominent Lib Dems it is not, however, clear who can lead the party forward. Tim Farron (who secured 51% of the vote in his Westmorland and Lonsdale constituency) is the most obvious candidate, but who else could mount a challenge? With so few MPs to pick from it may be that the party has to look beyond Westminster for a new leader who can start the long process of rebuilding the party’s standing in British politics.