ED MILIBAND and Nick Clegg have quit as party leaders as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats suffered bitter defeats in last night’s General Election.
Had earlier opinion polls yesterday been accurate the two Yorkshire MPs might have been expecting to be start negotiations over forming the next coalition Government together.
Instead they have both resigned after taking responsibility for their parties’ dismal showings.
Miliband is coming to terms with Labour being all but wiped out of Scotland by the SNP and losing ground to the Tories who have now secured an overall majority.
The Liberal Democrats have lost 48 seats as the party comprehensively lost its status as the country’s third biggest political force.
Miliband, MP for Doncaster North said he took “absolute and total responsibility” for the result, offering apologies to big Labour losses including Ed Balls and Jim Murphy who were defeated overnight.
He added: “Britain needs a strong Labour Party, Britain needs a Labour Party that can rebuild after this debate so we can have a government that stands up for working people again.
“And now it is time for someone else to take forward the leadership of this party. So I am tendering my resignation, taking effect after this afternoon’s commemoration of VE Day at the Cenotaph.
“I want to do so straight away because the party needs to have an open and honest debate about the right way forward, without constraint.”
Rather than breaking through as forecast by opinion polls, Labour saw losses to the Tories in key marginal seats and failed to win the Conservatives most vulnerable constituencies.
Miliband paid a fulsome tribute to Harriet Harman, who will take over as leader during the coming election contest, as the “best deputy leader anyone could hope for”.
And he said: “We have come back before and this party will come back again.”
His resignation came just half an hour after Clegg.
He said: “For the last seven years it has been a privilege, a huge privilege, an unlimited honour to lead a party of the most resilient, courageous and remarkable people.”
Mr Clegg insisted there was a “way back” and promised his party it “would win again”.
He added: “It is simply heartbreaking to see so many friends and colleagues who have served their friends and constituents so diligently over so many years abruptly lose their seats because of forces entirely beyond their control.”
“I always expected this election to be exceptionally difficult for the Liberal Democrats, given the heavy responsibilities we’ve had to bear in government in the most challenging of circumstances.
“But clearly results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared.
“For that, of course, I must take responsibility and therefore I announce I will be resigning as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”
Before the election Mr Clegg had suggested any Government formed without the Liberal Democrats would be likely to face a second general election this year.
However the Conservatives have defied predictions and look set to take the majority of seats in the House of Commons.
Greg Mulholland hung on to his Leeds North West seat in a rare bit of good news for the Lib Dems - but ruled himself out of challenging for the party leadership.
Speculation had been rife that with Clegg just clinging on to his Sheffield Hallam seat - and the Lib Dems’ virtual collapse nationwide - a change in leadership was imminent.
Asked if it was a bittersweet night, Mr Mulholland said “yes, very much so”.
“Obviously I’m delighted and honoured to have been elected for a third time in Leeds North West and very happy to be able to get on with my job in the constutuency,” he said,
“But clearly for the Liberal Democrats it’s been a dismal night and I have the responsibility along with my colleagues to do our best to rebuild the party.”
Asked if he would be throwing his hat in the ring for the Lib Dem leadership, he said “No, that’s a very easy question to answer”.
“It’s up to Nick to decide what to do and he’ll do it right.
“We need to arrange to get together and discuss how best to go forward and how to organise ourselves over the next five years.”
Speaking before the Tories outright majority had been confirmed, he said there was “no question” of the Liberal Democrats being involved in anything with the Conservatives again.
“It’s not even on the agenda,” he said,
“We can now get on with thinking of how we can best we provide a strong, if smaller, liberal and Liberal Democrat voice in British politics.”
A 70 per cent turnout saw Mr Mulholland gain almost 16,000 votes in Leeds North West, almost 3,000 more than his nearest rival, Labour’s Alex Sobel.
However it was a nervous victory, slashing his previous majority of more than 10,000.
He admitted it had been a tough battle to retain his seat, but praised the “wonderful” team of people behind him.
“I now have a responsibility to the constituents and the responsibility of doing my part to rebuild the party.
“We just have to regroup and do our best both in the House of Commons and to re-engage with the British Public and show them why the Liberal Democrats are needed.”
With 17 seats still to be declared this morning, the Liberal Democrats had secured just eight.