Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was last night under the most pressure of all three main political party leaders in the aftermath of the "Ukip earthquake" as European election results for the West were declared overnight.
The Deputy Prime Minister insisted he was staying on as party leader, despite the Lib Dems losing more than 250 council seats nationwide.
A petition signed by Liberal Democrat party members was rapidly gaining hundreds of signatures within hours of being started over the weekend – and those signing it included a small number of MPs and even Lib Dem candidates hoping to win seats at next year's General Election in the West.
Ros Kayes, the Lib Dem candidate in West Dorset, signed up to demand Mr Clegg step aside in the face of a disastrous showing in local government elections.
"If you were to ask the general public what it is they don't like, they wouldn't say they don't like the Coalition, they would say they don't like Nick Clegg," she said.
"As an individual he's a lovely bloke, I just don't think he's the right person to carry on leading the party," she added.
If Mr Clegg refuses to quit, a leadership contest would be triggered if 75 local party associations formally demanded one, or if a majority of the parliamentary party approved a no-confidence motion.
Southport MP John Pugh suggested that a dozen of his Commons colleagues had expressed doubts to him over whether Mr Clegg should continue at the head of the party.
An internal "post-mortem" of the poor night at the polls – which saw the party almost or entirely wiped out in some former strongholds – "has to include a truly open, mature and balanced look at our whole strategy, including the leadership issue", the Southport MP said.
"Although I admire enormously Nick's bravery, it does not follow that because the captain should go down with the ship that the ship has to go down with the captain."
Colleague Adrian Sanders, who represents Torbay, said: "The problem is the messenger, very few people say it's the message."
With the EU elections due to be declared last night – after the Western Daily Press went to print – predictions before the announcement were that the Lib Dems could lose all of its 11 MEPs, including veteran Euro politician Graham Watson in the south west.
The open letter calling for Mr Clegg's resignation says voters have delivered a "stark message about the party's performance and direction".
"We consider it vital that at the 2015 General Election the party should be led by someone who will receive a fair hearing about our achievements and ambitions for the future," it says.
"It is clear to us that this person is not you, as the loss of so many of our hard-working councillors highlights.
"You have fulfilled a range of objectives in Government, but we now believe that progress will be best achieved under a new leader.
"We therefore ask that you stand down, allowing the membership to select your successor this summer."
Senior Lib Dems have appealed for an end to the internal party row – with one pointing out there were more members of a Lib Dem group set up for fans of cake than there were signatories to the open letter.
Party president Tim Farron has appealed for an end to "absolutely foolish" calls for Nick Clegg to quit, and said: "Nick Clegg should undoubtedly stay and the Liberal Democrats should stay the course in Government." he conceded.
But overnight it was not just the Lib Dems who were questioning their prospects for the year until next May's General Election. Speculation mounted that Labour supporters were dissatisfied with their leader, Ed Miliband, after his gaffe-prone local election campaign. In Swindon – where Labour targeted overturning the Tories' slim majority – he blundered through a radio interview and admitted he did not know who the Labour council leader was. The Tories extended their majority in Swindon by one seat. And David Cameron was facing tough questions from the party faithful after Ukip's strong showing – with party insiders fearful that if a rise in the Ukip vote is maintained to May 2015, it could prevent the Tories winning an overall majority.