The Liberal Democrats suffer widespread local government losses across England. Gary Gibbon looks at how the political landscape has changed and the implications for the coalition.
The Liberal Democrats have lost hundreds of council seats and control of several councils in what could be their worst election result since the 1980s.
In Sheffield, which contains Nick Clegg’s constituency, the Lib Dems were overtaken as the largest party by Labour. They lost their majority in Hull, Stockport and Bristol.
In both Manchester and Liverpool the Lib Dems lost 11 seats on a night where, in the words of party president Tim Farron, councillors suffered from being “dealt a blow because of the way the national situation is”.
Speaking at his home, Nick Clegg said: “Clearly last night was a very, very bad night for us. My heart goes out to Liberal Democrat councillors, MSPs (Member of Scottish Parliament), AMs (Welsh Assembly members) who have shown such dedication and hard work to their communities and have now found that they have lost or haven’t made the gains they hoped.
“In politics, as in life, you have ups and downs, and we have taken a real knock last night and we will have to learn the lessons we’ve heard on the doorstep.”
Asked whether the coalition was killing the Liberal Democrats, Mr Clegg admitted that it was his party which had suffered from disenchantment on the part of the electorate.
“In Scotland, Wales and the great cities of the north where there are real anxieties about the deficit reduction plans we are having to put in place, we are clearly getting the brunt of the blame.”
Tim Farron described the election as “the first Lib Dem midterm for 80 years,” a test of how the country has reacted to the party’s position within the Government and how effective a role it has played in the coalition.
For the first time since he became Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg faces calls for his resignation. Gary Long, party leader on Nottingham City Council, told BBC Radio: “I’m in favour of the coalition but I think he’s run it very badly and in my view he should resign immediately.”
Results for the AV referendum are expected in late on Friday, with low turnout figures predicted as a well as a comfortable victory for the No campaign.
With Lord Ashdown calling for the coalition partnership to become “more businesslike”, the knock-on effect of the AV vote could be further damage to the Clegg-Cameron “Brokeback coalition”.
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Labour leader Ed Miliband said that the Lib Dems dismal day at the polls pointed to the coalition becoming untenable.
“The Conservative party does not have a majority in parliament and has only been able to govern because of the Liberal Democrats’ willing participation in a Tory-led government,” he said.
“People who once voted Liberal Democrat have withdrawn permission for Nick Clegg to back Tory policies on the NHS, on living standards and cuts that go too far, too fast.
“People do not want a relaunch of the coalition but real change. David Cameron and Nick Clegg must listen to the people.”