Nick Clegg quit as Liberal Democrat leader after the party was devastated - and his Sheffield majority slashed - in a ‘crushing’ and ‘catastrophic’ election.
The former Deputy Prime Minister’s personal lead was cut from over 15,000 to just 2,353 by Labour’s Oliver Coppard when the result was announced shortly after 4.30am on Friday.
Across the country the party lost 48 MPs, including Business Secretary Vince Cable and other high-profile casualties, in the first election since it formed a Coalition Government.
Mr Clegg had been heckled and booed as he spoke from the podium at Attercliffe’s English Institute of Sport as he was re-elected - and just hours later announced his resignation as leader after eight years in the role.
With tears brimming in his eyes he said: “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.
“Clearly the results have been immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared.
“For that I must take responsibility and therefore I announce that I will be resigning as leader of the Liberal Democrats.”
The first indication of him standing down came at the packed Sheffield count, when he said it was ‘painfully clear that this has been a cruel and punishing night’ with ‘profound implications.’
Mr Clegg left the count immediately after the result to speak to Westminster colleagues about his future.
When he hadarrived at around 4am, media had crowded the entrance to the count, only for him to come in unseen through a side door.
There had been mounting speculation through the night that he was neck and neck with Mr Coppard.
Announcing his resignation the next day, he said it was a ‘dark day’ for the party and ‘heartbreaking’ to see colleagues go.
He added: “I believe the history books will judge our party kindly for the service we sought to provide for the nation at a time of great economic difficulty.”
He said ‘fear and grievance’ had won but vowed the party would come back and ‘rebuild.’
At the count Sheffield Lib Dem peer Lord Paul Scriven had said: “Of course I’m disappointed, not just here in Hallam to see Nick’s majority reduced but across the country where we’ve been seeing really good hard-working MPs go.”
He added: “I am a close friend of Nick Clegg and he is a man who in the most difficult of circumstances stood up to the plate, sorted out the economy and stopped the Tories from doing some really unpalatable things.
“Now if the Lib Dems are not in Goverment and the Tories are, people will see the kinds of things the Tories want to do, and maybe in a few months or years they will look back and be a little more sympathetic and realise the kind of things Nick Clegg did to bring a sense of fairness.”
The turnout in Hallam was 76.85 per cent, three per cent higher than in 2010, and it was reported that polling stations in student areas had been particularly busy on polling day, Thursday May 7.
Oliver Coppard, who secured 19,862 votes , was hoping to win the constituency for Labour for the first time in its history. In comparison the Labour Hallam candidate in 2010, Jack Scott, secured 8,228 votes.
On polling day more than 200 people from across the country helped out during the campaign to get Mr Coppard elected.
He said: “I’m really proud of the campaign we ran, and I’m really grateful for all the support we received.
“Of course I am disappointed - I think the result was close because people did feel let down but they have said very clearly what MP they want to represent the community and I wish him the best of luck.”
Asked if he would stand again, Mr Coppard added: “I’ve only just finished this one, I have no thoughts on that yet. My priority was always Sheffield Hallam because it is my home.”
Conservative candidate Ian Walker came third with 7,544 votes.
He was ‘very glad’ about the Conservative performance nationally as it secured a majority Government, flying in the face of predictions.
He added: “It is great news for the whole country, more jobs, more growth, better education.
“I think the Lib Dems invested a huge amount in Sheffield Hallam - Labour and the Conservatives forced the Lib Dems to give a lot of their national attention to Hallam which is part of why they have lost so many seats.”
Independent candidate Carlton Reeve said he had ‘really enjoyed’ the ‘great experience’ of standing, Ukip’s Joe Jenkins that he ‘never thought it was going to turn purple overnight’ and Green Peter Garbutt that his party were ‘doing a lot better this year’ in Sheffield.