UK Politics

Nick Clegg: Exhausted, red-eyed and pale

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Media captionNick Clegg: "I'm not going to walk away"

Liberal Democrats have grown used to disappointing poll ratings and getting kicked every year in local elections.

They've lost many hundreds of councillors since 2010 and have now been reduced to one MEP.

Nick Clegg has said before that you have to have a thick skin in politics, but when I interviewed him in the wake of these dire European election results it was clear that he was feeling the pain of defeat.

Exhausted, red-eyed and pale, Mr Clegg looked like a man who'd been up all night considering his future but he insisted it hadn't crossed his mind to resign, although he would if he thought it would make any difference.

The party's strategy going into this campaign was to try to attract pro-European voters with an appeal for an open-minded, generous-hearted Britain, but going head-to-head with UKIP leader Nigel Farage in a TV debate back-fired.

For the man with a Dutch mother and Spanish wife - and who speaks five languages - the European project is personal as well as political. He began his career as an MEP and many of those who lost their seats were old friends.

When he told me it was heartbreaking to see them defeated, it was obvious he meant it.

Wake-up call

Mr Clegg knows his party is also being punished for being in coalition with the Conservatives but despite all the calls for a change in strategy from disgruntled MPs, there's no sign that the Lib Dem leader is going to walk away from power.

Image caption Mr Clegg was an MEP for the East Midlands from 1999 to 2004

Few Lib Dem MPs seem to think that removing Mr Clegg will help but they are shocked at the Euro results and think it's a wake-up call.

One MP, who described himself as an ultra-loyalist, told me there'd been "a break of trust between us and the people we represent" and the party had to do more to explain why it was in coalition.

Another former minister said they had to re-establish their centre-left credentials and win back those who'd defected to Labour and the Greens.

The leadership had to "stop taking things for granted" and this MP was extremely critical of Mr Clegg's team of advisers, describing them as "children" who'd got the strategy all wrong.

Some Lib Dem members have broken ranks to call for Mr Clegg to go, but at this stage it doesn't seem that many MPs share that view.

One, who usually needs no excuse for a good rebellion, told me that no-one who'd led the Lib Dems into coalition with their mortal enemy could ever prosper.

He'd have done things differently, but says it's not the time to change leaders.

They all say, though, that a "business as usual" approach from Nick Clegg won't be enough.