Everyone, even the party themselves expected the Liberals to be punished for their choice to get into bed with the Conservatives.
I truly believe that most Liberal MPs had the best of intentions, but at the end of the day, failing to get any of the truly progressive elements of their manifesto put through or halt the Conservative cuts made them appear complicit associates, rather than a retraining hand.
However, almost nobody predicted the scale of the bloodbath or that the Liberal collapse would directly lead to a Conservative majority, even though the writing was on the wall as soon as the 2011 Scottish election.
As it stands, the Liberals have been put back over 40 years to levels of representation not seen since 1970 – when they were still just the Liberal party.
It’s clear WHY they were decimated, but how do they respond?
The Liberal pitch of occupying the centre ground between Labour and Conservatives places them squarely on the centre-right – having been dragged/pushed to the right along with the rest of mainstream British politics by Thatcher and Blair. However, that pitch clearly failed to work as the squeezed middle made itself felt, so which way do they jump?
For me, the clear answer is to step left, especially as Labour are convincing themselves that they need to be more right wing, giving the Liberals more room to be distinctive away from the congested ground of the centre-right.
A truly centrist Liberal Democrats can be a conscience to the big parties and by concentrating on their progressive social policies, rather than acting as apologists for austerity they can put the failed Coalition experiment behind them.
This path seems likely, with Tim Farron being the bookies favourite to succeed Nick Clegg as leader and as one of the Liberal Democrt MPs who refused to back the Coalition on tuition fees – probably the single policy failure which hurt the Lib Dems the most – he would surely lead the party away from it’s recent position.
Whatever way they step, it is important that the Liberal Democrats build themselves back up from the ground. The Coalition simply came too soon for them and they were outfaced by the more experienced and more numerous Tories. They need to re-establish their identity as more than Conservative stooges and become the strong, coherent voice for Liberalism that British politics needs.
As the UK moves towards multi-party politics, proportional representation and a more diverse frame of debate, it would be a shame and a setback if the party who has longest campaigned for that very outcome should become an afterthought.