Clegg punished with his party's worst-ever results
The Liberal Democrats suffered another drubbing at the hands of the electorate, falling below 3,000 councillors for the first time in the party's history.
Overall, 335 Lib Dem councillors were ejected from office across the country as the party lost its leaders in Milton Keynes and Edinburgh.
The party lost every single seat it contested in Manchester and suffered particularly badly in seats where it was fighting Labour in the North. All Liberal Democrat councillors standing for re-election were defeated in Coventry, Harlow, Hastings and Lincoln.
"One more election like this and we will be in danger of no longer being a national party," said the party's former Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott.
The Lib Dems took some cheer by doing better in councils where they were fighting the Tories, and in several areas of the country where they have sitting MPs. The Lib Dems held on to council control in Portsmouth, Cheltenham, Eastleigh, Colchester and Watford. In some councils where they were already strong they actually won seats, and in Nick Clegg's constituency of Sheffield Hallam they picked up two new councillors.
Mr Clegg said he was "really sad" at the ousting from office of so many party colleagues, but insisted that the Lib Dems would "continue to play our role" in the Government as it tackled the economic crisis.
"I am really sad that so many colleagues and friends, Liberal Democrat councillors who have worked so hard, so tirelessly for so many years for communities and families in their local areas have lost their seats and I want to pay tribute to all the great work they have done," he said. Mr Clegg said the Coalition was in a "difficult mid-term period. Over time people will come to acknowledge our unique role, the Liberal Democrats, in this Government as the only party in British politics that combines responsibility on the economy with social fairness," he added.
But the former Lib Dem MP Lembit Opik said that the results reinforced his campaign for Mr Clegg to quit as party leader but stay on as Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Opik said: "The problem is Nick Clegg. There is a poll today which suggests that 19 per cent of the people like the Lib Dems without Clegg; 12 per cent like Clegg without the Liberal Democrats. We would have done better with a different leader."
So bad, even a penguin beat them...
Summing up a torrid night for the Liberal Democrats, the party finished behind a man dressed in a penguin suit in Edinburgh.
The candidate, who went under the name "Professor Pongoo" – real name Mike Ferrigan, a climate activist – polled more votes than the Lib Dems' Stuart Bridges. In St Helen's, police broke up a fracas after the party's leader on the council, Brian Spencer, lost his seat. According to witnesses, police intervened after a confrontation between Mr Spencer and Labour candidate Mark Johnson, who fell across a table.
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