One of these days I’m going to start believing exit polls. I thought the 2010 one was wrong as there was no way we’d lose seats, and when tonight’s came out I joined in the chorus of people who thought there was no way it could be the correct result. If anything, it now seems to have underestimated the number of Tory seats,

I’m doing an exam about public opinion and polling a week on Monday. Might be time to shred a whole bunch of my notes and just scrawl ‘nobody knows anything’ across the paper, as that seems to be the message. Something happened that the polls completely missed, but I have no idea what that factor might be.

At the moment, there are just six Liberal Democrat MPs, a number we last had after the 1970 election, but was pretty much our default number during most of the 50s and 60s. We’ve still got local election results to come tomorrow, and given the absolute slaughter of our general election vote, we’re likely to face another long day of terrible news from around the country. And as I write this, the Colchester result has come through, and Bob Russell’s lost by over 5,500 votes. This is a potential extinction level event for the party.

But we can’t let it be that. The country’s now going to get to see just what we spent five years holding back as the Tories have their bare majority, and David Cameron has to govern while keeping the right wing fringes of his party happy. Watch in awe as the Human Rights Act goes, as welfare budgets are slashed, as housing associations are plundered and most of all, as we spend the next two years obsessing over Europe and wondering just why no one wants to renegotiate our EU membership. The Tory campaign has whipped up fear and division across the country, and now they’re going reap what they’ve sown with more than 50 SNP MPs sitting in Westminster, just waiting for the opportunity to make Scotland independent.

The country needs a strong liberal voice, and we need to make sure that we are still that voice, no matter how small the platform we have to shout it from. However, we first need to gather ourselves, to talk and think for a while and not rush into any decisions about the future, and that includes a leadership election.

To be clear, the responsibility for this catastrophe does lie heavily with Clegg and all those in the leadership who decided we needed to be a party of centrist managerialism, offering the public little more than an offer to moderate the bad things the other parties would do. But if you break something, it’s your responsibility to stay around and help with the clean up. Clegg can’t stay on as leader, but the last thing we need right now is to be plunged straight into a leadership election. He needs to stay on as effectively an interim leader to give us the space to have the reviews, the analysis and the discussions we need. This was not a conventional defeat, and we can’t respond to it in a conventional way. We cannot turn in on ourselves and fight over what little remains, we need to get ourselves together before we can work out where we’re going.

This isn’t the end, but we need to work harder than ever to get out of this hole.