New Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has warned there is no certainty that the party will survive, in the wake of its general election hammering.
Mr Farron, who was elected last night to succeed Nick Clegg with 56% of the membership vote, said it could take a generation for them to recover their position in the last parliament.
However, he insisted there was still a place in British politics for a "liberal third force" and that it was possible they could bounce back within a couple of years.
Asked on Sky News how long it would take to get back to the position where they had 50-plus MPs, he said: "It is not inevitable that we survive at all, neither is it inevitable that it has to take forever."
With the party down to a rump of just eight MPs, Mr Farron compared the position he inherited with the situation the Liberals faced in the 1970s when Jeremy Thorpe was forced to resign amid allegations he plotted to murder a former male lover.
"David Steel took over the leadership of the Liberal Party at the height of the Thorpe scandal," Mr Farron said.
"That was a pretty terrible time for the party and it took him five or six years to go from that unbelievable low point to the point where we got 26% of the vote.
"We have seen comebacks in our party in the past on many occasions. It might take a generation, it also might take a year or two."
He added: "There is space for an absolutely tough, outsider, anti-establishment, liberal third force in British politics. Surely only the Liberal Democrats can fill it and I am determined that we will."
In an indication of the direction in which he may lead the party, Mr Farron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that George Osborne's Budget was "morally wrong" and that the Trident nuclear deterrent was "a Cold War relic".
He said that he would eliminate the state deficit by boosting growth and ensuring workers were earning more, and said he would take advantage of historically low interest rates to borrow for "serious capital investment" in projects such as the mooted HS3 and HS4 high-speed rail links in the North of England and Midlands, universal high-speed broadband and 30 energy-generating tidal lagoons around the UK.
Mr Farron dismissed the Chancellor's Budget promise of a £7.20-an-hour National Living Wage - rising to £9 by 2020 - saying: "Just because you call something a living wage, doesn't mean it is one. I could call myself Pele, it doesn't mean I'm any good at football."