FEAR and grievance has won out against “the politics of hope” at the general election, Nick Clegg warned as he quit as Lib Dem leader ahead of the annihilation of his party in Westminster.
A tired and pale-looking Mr Clegg, whose party had been reduced from 57 MPs to eight, warned Lib Dem members that the country faced “a dark hour” as he took full responsibility for the humiliation doled out at the polls.
Clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have fearedNick Clegg
It came as Sir Malcolm Bruce, the party’s deputy leader who stood down as Gordon MP at the election, insisted that the fightback for the party needed to start in next year’s Holyrood election and focus on the SNP’s own record in government.
The race to succeed Mr Clegg looks set to be between former party president Tim Farron, North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb and possibly former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael.
But despite acknowledging that the result was “a catastrophe” Mr Clegg, who was greeted with cheers at his press conference, refused to apologise for going into coalition with the Tories as he made his last statement as leader.
Mr Clegg added: “If our losses are part-payment for every family that is more secure because of a job we helped create, every person with depression who is treated with the compassion they deserve, every child who does a little better in school, every apprentice with a long and rewarding career to look forward to, every gay couple who know their love is worth no less than everyone else’s, and every pensioner with a little more freedom and dignity in retirement, then I hope our losses can be endured with a little selfless dignity.”
Mr Clegg’s party saw Cabinet ministers fall in Vince Cable, Danny Alexander and Ed Davey, and devastating losses across the country.
The party was left with just one seat in each of Scotland and Wales.
And it faces a complete wipeout in its South west stronghold, which were Tory-facing seats.
Mr Clegg held on to his Sheffield Hallam seat with a much-reduced majority and, watched by wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, acknowledged that the “cruel” night would have implications for both the country and his own position.
Hundreds of Liberal Democrat candidates were humiliated at the ballot box, losing their deposits in race after race.
Mr Clegg concluded: “This is a very dark hour for our party but we cannot and will not allow decent liberal values to be extinguished overnight.
“Our party will come back, our party will win again.
“It will take patience, resilience and grit but that is what has built our party before and will rebuild it again.
Afterwards Sir Malcolm, who saw his own seat fall to Alex Salmond, complained that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “was given an easy ride.”
He said: “Being in the UK leaders debates really helped her. She was able to focus on UK issues and ignore her own party’s record in government.”
He went on: “The fightback needs to start next year in Scotland. We need to focus hard on the SNP record in government because public services are falling apart on their watch.
“In the north east of Scotland for example we don’t have enough GPs, they keep missing their health targets, and the SNP keep saying it will be all right when it won’t.”
Defeated former chief treasury secretary Danny Alexander has raised concerns about the combination of Scottish Nationalism north of the Border and English nationalism in the Tories.
He said: “I really fear for my country.”