Nick Clegg was facing recriminations yesterday after the Liberal Democrats suffered their second by-election humiliation in four months.
In further evidence of the backlash they face in Scotland over going into coalition with the Conservatives, the party's vote in Inverclyde collapsed from 5,007 to just 627. Labour held on to the constituency to the west of Glasgow comfortably, although its majority over the Scottish National Party halved.
The Conservatives came third, well ahead of the 20-year-old Liberal Dem ocrat candidate Sophie Bridger.
The Liberal Democrats, who performed disastrously in elections to the Scottish Parliament two months ago, lost their deposit as their support haemorrhaged from 13 per cent to two per cent. The result echoed their showing in the Barnsley Central by-election in March when the party limped in sixth with four per cent of the vote.
Ross Finnie, a former minister in the Scottish executive, suggested Mr Clegg and senior party figures should bear the blame for the "humiliating" result.
"The public have decided they didn't like the offering we made them," he said. "There were clear issues of trust in the leadership and there was an issue about whether we were articulating a case for people to vote for us." A senior source said the party had been "bound to get squeezed", but insisted it could recover by the next general election.
Although Labour's majority fell from 14,426 to 5,838, the party was relieved to have fought off the SNP, still riding high from its triumph in the Scottish parliamentary elections. It had a 9 per cent swing in its favour, while Labour candidate Iain McKenzie described the result as the start of the party's fightback.