Following what Nick Clegg called a "cruel and punishing" election for the Liberal Democrats, the party will undergo a great deal of soul searching. After jumping from protest vote, to party of government, to political life support in five years, Liberal Democrats now have to ask themselves what they stand for.
Leadership favourite Tim Farron has mooted ditching the party's colour, logo and name to rehabilitate the party. This is the classic knee jerk politician's reaction that attributes any problem to an issue of branding. It ignores the reality that the Liberals have been robbed of their unique selling point. After all, who isn't liberal these days?
Small 'L' liberalism stands for the preservation of individual liberty, representative government and freedom of choice, while economic liberalism holds that government should avoid interfering excessively in the economy. The Liberal Democrats' problem is that almost all mainstream politicians support these ideas - at least in principle.
They struggle to claim liberalism as their own because its values have now been wholly embraced by left and right. Gladstone rivals Disraeli as a Conservative icon, while Labour values Lloyd George's legacy of social reform as much as Attlee's. While the SNP and UKIP may be polar opposites on the political spectrum, they both evoke the spirit of liberalism in their attempts to bring power closer to the individual. In a situation like this, what room is there for the poor old Lib Dems?
The Liberal Democrats could now vow to act as champions for the rights we already hold. But the problem with liberalism is its slippery nature. When the last Labour Government tried to introduce national ID cards, an illiberal anathema to many, ministers claimed that true liberals took tough measures to protect a liberal society. Similarly, in coming months many will accuse the Government of illiberalism for its plan to redefine Britain's relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights. But what is more liberal than bringing these rights closer to the man on the street? Again, in this situation what are the poor old Lib Dems to do?
Although it will come as little comfort to the 85% of Liberal Democrat MPs who lost their seats this month, a measure of their party's success can be seen in its own descent into irrelevance. When liberalism is normalised to such an extent that many Conservatives now support same-sex marriage and Labour politicians acknowledge the need to liberalise our health and education services, why do we need an exclusively liberal party?
In his resignation speech Nick Clegg claimed that liberalism had lost. Quite the opposite, the Liberal Democrats have lost, but liberalism has triumphed.Suggest a correction