Lib Dem leadership race to begin
The Liberal Democrat leadership race will formally begin today as nominations open for the job of rebuilding the party after the devastating losses inflicted at the ballot box.
The battle for the future of the party is widely expected to be fought between former health minister Norman Lamb and the Lib Dems' ex-president Tim Farron.
Mr Lamb has acknowledged that a failure to stand up to the Conservatives over the so-called "bedroom tax" and the U-turn over university tuition fees had led to his party paying a heavy price in an election which saw just eight Lib Dem MPs returned to Westminster.
The North Norfolk MP said he is a "good friend" of former leader Nick Clegg but denied he was a "continuity candidate" who would carry on the work done by the ex-deputy prime minister, who is seen as being on the right of the party.
Mr Farron - who voted against the increase in fees - is a popular figure on the party's left and has been urged to run by the leaders of the Scottish and Welsh Lib Dems, Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams.
To get on the leadership ballot a contender must secure the endorsement of 10% of MPs - now less than one person - as well as 200 members from at least 20 local Liberal Democrat parties.
The wider membership - which has grown by more than 10,000 since the polling day bloodbath - selects the winner via an alternative vote system, with the verdict due on July 16.
Mr Lamb described his decision to stand as a difficult one and a "huge personal challenge".
He said: "I thought about it long and hard - it was a big decision which will have a massive impact on my family's life.
"I am not somebody who ever set out to be party leader - I regard myself as a conviction politician with strong beliefs and I needed to convince myself I could balance that with being party leader.
"I believe power needs to be in the hands of people and communities, that is something I think I can bring to the job."
He has indicated he would be prepared to support David Cameron's push for an in/out referendum on membership of the EU, saying that pro-Europeans should "embrace" the prospect of a public vote.
The comments, in an LBC Radio interview, are a departure from the Lib Dem policy of only supporting a referendum if powers are transferred to Brussels.
Many of the Lib Dems' former Cabinet ministers and potential leadership candidates, including Vince Cable and Danny Alexander, were among the electoral casualties on polling day.
Mr Clegg stepped down in the aftermath of the election which saw the Lib Dems' representation at Westminster slashed from 57 MPs in 2010 to a rump of eight.