Many eyes are naturally fixed on Labour’s disastrous electoral performance. But the Lib Dems’ self-immolation was no less spectacular.
Here was a party which began the campaign at almost level-pegging with Labour in the polls. The self-satisfied Jo Swinson, leader since July, insisted she could be Prime Minister, though some of us could not stifle a laugh.
Now she has lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire, and resigned. Although her party slightly increased its share of the vote since the 2017 election, it ended up with only 11 MPs, one fewer than two years ago.
The Liberal Democrats self-immolation was spectacular and Jo Swinson’s insistence to become Prime Minister could not help but stifle a laugh
Many of its supposed stars crashed and burned. The charismatic ex-Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who was a Lib Dem candidate, failed to win the Cities of London and Westminster constituency. He was so grand that he was late for his count.
Ex-Tory Minister Sam Gyimah flopped in Kensington and Chelsea, while former Labour MP Luciana Berger came second in the north London seat of Finchley and Golders Green.
All the other MPs who had defected to the Lib Dems from Labour and Tory benches also bit the dust: Angela Smith, Phillip Lee, Sarah Wollaston and so on.
A rare bright moment in an evening of pretty unremitting gloom for the party was its ousting of Tory minister Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park in south-west London.
Swinson (pictured on December 13) lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire, and resigned. Although her party slightly increased its share of the vote since the 2017 election, it ended up with only 11 MPs, one fewer than two years ago
Yet the Lib Dems did not find much favour with the wider British public.
So why was the party unable to mobilise anti-Brexit forces much more successfully than it did – especially given that Labour’s own position on Brexit was nebulous?
The answer can be given in one word: arrogance. This disagreeable trait was written all over the face of Jo Swinson, and it was encapsulated in the Lib Dems’ disastrous policy of vetoing a second referendum in the event of winning power.
That’s right: if Ms Swinson had fetched up as Prime Minister, as she assured us was on the cards, she would have ignored the result of the 2016 EU referendum without even bothering to hold another so-called People’s Vote. A more breath-taking repudiation of democratic principles could scarcely be imagined. And this from a party which calls itself Democratic. Non-Liberal anti-Democrats would be closer to the mark.
As it became clear that she had no more chance of winning power than of circumnavigating the moon, Ms Swinson began to distance herself from her calamitous policy. But the damage was done. Not only were Leave voters appalled. Many Remainers couldn’t stomach such high-handedness.
Has a party ever fought an election on such an unappealing platform? Probably not. But then it is doubtful whether a major party has ever produced such a pitifully unqualified leader – and I don’t exclude Jeremy Corbyn.
Some pundits have compared Jo Swinson to an overbearing headmistress. Actually she is more like a bossy and supercilious head prefect with a maddening sense of her own importance.
When she lost her seat, I was inclined to feel sorry for her. But I’m afraid her characteristically supercilious and graceless response soon smothered my sympathies. She said she felt ‘dread and dismay’.
The political know-all discerned a ‘wave of nationalism’ sweeping ‘both sides of the border’. This may be a fair description of the SNP’s successes, but it was an unpleasantly lofty description of those millions of patriotic ex-Labour voters who backed the Tories.
Swinson (pictured arriving at a counting centre in Bishopbriggs, on December 13) resembles a bossy and supercilious head prefect with a maddening sense of her own importance. Upon losing her seat, she felt ‘dread and dismay’
That’s the trouble with Jo Swinson and many Lib Dems. They are often more at ease with fellow members of the disembodied political EU elite than they are with their fellow countrymen.
So what happens now? The party will have to find a new leader. One candidate is the stolid Ed Davey, a Cabinet minister in the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition.
Less dull, but irritatingly superior, is Layla Moran, who might have rolled off the same production line as Jo Swinson. In her constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon (which happens to be where I live), she increased her majority from 816 votes to 8,943.
Volunteers count ballots from the UK general election in East Dunbartonshire on December 12
Ms Moran may go down well in a heavily Remainer university city with many thousands of students, but she is too rarefied a creature to make much impact in the rougher corners of our country.
Do the Lib Dems aspire to being a national party again, as they were in 2005, when they won 62 seats, from the Shetlands to Cornwall? Or are they content to be a niche party with a very limited appeal?
On the evidence of yesterday’s results, they are now a peripheral force. And they have at least as much thinking as Labour to do before having any hope of recovery.