MPs who defected to the Lib Dems were “completely screwed” by Jo Swinson who forced her party to agree to a plan for an early election.
Ms Swinson, who lost her East Dunbartonshire seat to the Scottish Nationalists on Thursday, is facing a backlash from senior party members over her “unilateral decision” insist on an early poll. One former MP said: “It was the worst tactical error by a politician in recent times. It was Jo’s decision alone to go for a snap election, she didn’t even consult the rest of the MPs.
“She was the one who even made the phone call to set it up.”
According to sources Ms Swinson picked up the phone to the SNP’s former Europe spokesman in Westminster Stephen Gethins to make a pact to force the election which the Tories had been demanding to unblock Brexit but Jeremy Corbyn and Labour had resisted.
“She came and announced it to our equivalent of a shadow cabinet meeting in Parliament and we were shocked,” a senior figure said.
“[Former leaders] Vince [Cable], Tim [Farron] and [Tory defector] Philip Lee begged her to change her mind.
“They said it was a huge tactical mistake, but Jo insisted and said the deal had been done.”
Ironically, both authors of the Lib Dem/SNP deal are now out of Parliament.
Ms Swinson lost her seat to the Scottish Nationalists while her Lib Dem party took Mr Gethin’s seat in North East Fife.
One MP who defected to the Lib Dems said: “We were completely screwed by the decision. Philip [Lee] was making headway in Wokingham against [Sir John] Redwood, Chuka [Umunna] was on track for Cities of London and Westminster, while Sam [Gyimah] had only just been selected for Kensington.
“They all needed time to bed in. Those seats were winnable but the Jo screwed them completely with the early election.”
Ms Swinson stepped down after being turfed out of Parliament and her party ending up with one less seat in Parliament down to just 11.
One senior figure said: “The internal polling said we would win 80 to 100 seats. That’s why she went for it but nobody took into account the Brexit Party standing down in the Conservative seats.”
Once the campaign got underway it also became clear to senior figures that their leader “was just not up to it.”
One candidate said: “We thought we could win and then the polls just went south.”
Another likened it to “like being in a badly run student society. The whole operation and set up was amateurish.”
There was also despair when the party announced a big push on supporting a radical transgender policy and candidates were banned from appearing on the hugely influential Mumsnet social media forum because its members criticise trans policies.
But the big loss was that the party had calculated that the Labour Leave vote would transfer to the Conservatives.
Dr Lee said: “I feel we did very well. We got a swing from the Conservatives of more than 20 percent.
“What none of us realised until late was that the Labour Leave vote went lock, stock and barrel over to the Tories. It was game over then.”
Former cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael said he believed the party had “little choice” but to go for an early election because of the Brexit logjam.
He said: “We need to have a review and look at where we go now. Obviously there won’t be an election for five years and we will leave the EU.”
Mr Carmichael has ruled himself out of running for the leadership with deputy leader Sir Ed Davey emerging as an early favourite.
Dr Lee described him as “intelligent and thoughtful”.
Habingdon MP Layla Moran is also popular with the membership while friends of Edinburgh West MP Christine Jardine, a former journalist and government special adviser who is a close friend of Ms Swinson, say she is considering making a bid for the leadership.
Ms Jardine declined to comment on her ambitions but said: “We need to look at what went wrong. We ended up with a million more votes but one less seat.
“We were close in another 57 so we need to look at targeting and tactics.”