THE blame game has begun.

Rancour and recriminations started to break out in Labour ranks even before the vast majority of results were actually announced.

Gareth Snell, fighting to hold onto Stoke-on-Trent Central, predicted he had lost his seat ahead of the constituency’s result being confirmed and just minutes after the exit poll giving Boris Johnson an 86-majority was announced.

"This is one of the worst results the Labour Party could ever have imagined," declared the disgruntled candidate.

“The damage and the untold horrors the Tories will unleash in Stoke-on-Trent lies firmly at the door of those running the national party's campaign and the decisions they have made about where to target and the sort of Brexit response they should have."

Asked if it was time for Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell to go, he replied tersely: “Yes."

The fact his colleague Ruth Smeeth lost her Stoke-on-Trent North seat and Tory Jack Brereton held onto Stoke-on-Trent South meant Labour was wiped out in the Potteries.

As the ballots continued to be counted, Ms Smeeth was equally critical of the party leadership, insisting: "This is a disaster. Jeremy Corbyn should resign now before his own count is in."

Ian Murray, once again Labour’s only surviving Scottish MP, had a blunt warning for his comrades, saying: “This party must listen, this party must respond or this party will die.”

An arch-critic of Mr Corbyn, he attacked his party leader for helping to deliver into power "the worst Conservative Prime Minister in history".

Not mincing his words, the Edinburgh South MP claimed Labour had been unable to form a “credible Opposition, never mind a credible alternative government" and in a direct message to his party leader said: “For the sake of the Labour movement, for the sake of the Labour Party but more importantly for the sake of the country, not only does the person have to go but the policy and the ideology has to go as well."

However, Mr Corbyn resisted calls for him depart immediately, explaining a decision on his departure would be taken after a “process of reflection,” possibly even as late as the spring.

He explained: "The National Executive will have to meet, of course, in the very near future and it is up to them. It will be in the early part of next year."

The Labour leader appeared to lay the complete blame for his party’s woeful performance – the worst since 1935 – not on his leadership but on Brexit. Any apology or acknowledgement of personal failure was conspicuous by its absence.

He said: "I have pride in our manifesto we put forward and all the policies, which actually had huge public support.

"But this election was taken over, ultimately, by Brexit and we as a party represent people who voted both Remain and Leave.

"My whole strategy was to reach out beyond the Brexit divide to try and bring people together, because ultimately the country has to come together."

When asked if Corbynism was dead, Mr Corbyn replied: "There's no such thing as Corbynism. There is socialism, there is social justice, there are radical manifestos, all of which are there."

He added: "I don't think they are unelectable at all."

The Labour leader’s allies echoed the point that his leadership was not the issue, saying the defeat was down to the inability to overcome differences over Brexit rather than a rejection of Mr Corbyn's radical left-wing policy programme.

But an Opinium post-poll survey of more than 5,600 people on Friday suggested the reason why voters rejected Labour were its leadership - 43 per cent - its stance on Brexit - 17 per cent - and its economic policies - 12 per cent.

Dame Margaret Hodge, re-elected in Barking and Dagenham, who clashed forcefully with the party leader over the anti-Semitism row, tweeted: "Corbyn talking about a period of 'reflection'. I've reflected. You failed. Please stand down."

The veteran backbencher claimed that because anti-Jewish hatred had been allowed to flourish within Labour, it had become the "nasty party" under Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

She was not alone in her call for his immediate departure.

Lord Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, told the BBC: "Jeremy should go now. There should be an interim leader agreed between the National Executive and the parliamentary party; perhaps somebody like Hilary Benn.

"It would really help if the clique that runs the Labour Party at the moment just said sorry. I haven't heard one of them apologise to all those who lost their seats last night," the Labour peer stressed.

Mr Benn argued that voters simply did not have confidence in Mr Corbyn's leadership.

"Any Labour canvasser will tell you we knocked on too many doors where people said: 'I've voted Labour all my life but I'm not going to vote Labour on this occasion', and they didn't have confidence in the leadership of the party."

Phil Wilson, who lost Tony Blair's former seat of Sedgefield to the Tories, said attempts by the leadership to put the result down to Brexit was "mendacious nonsense".

"Jeremy Corbyn's leadership was a bigger problem. To say otherwise is delusional. The party's leadership went down like a lead balloon on the doorstep," he claimed.

Now, Labour faces not only an examination of where it all went wrong but also a contest to succeed Mr Corbyn.

The early runners and riders are thought to include: Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary; Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary; Yvette Cooper, the former Shadow Home Secretary; Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Business Secretary, and Angela Rayner, the Shadow Education Secretary.

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, tipped by some as a potential successor to Mr Corbyn, swiftly ruled himself out. However, given the membership now decides who the leader is, then it is likely that whoever succeeds the current party leader will be a Corbynite; which would rule out Ms Cooper and probably Sir Keir.

Last night, Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, insisted the party had to “listen and rebuild after a devastating result”.

But after the 1997 Labour landslide Tory leader William Hague embarked on a “listening tour” to understand why the voters had rejected his party so comprehensively. The listening, however, was not to the British people but Conservative grassroots, who effectively reinforced the view that there was nothing wrong with the party’s policies; they were simply not sold hard enough to an uncomprehending public.

If Labour does the same, then it, like the Tories in 1997 will be out of power for at least a decade or more.

Last night, a rumour was doing the rounds at Westminster Boris Johnson would on Saturday venture to northern England to make a speech, underpinning his commitment to his new blue-collar constituency in what were former Labour heartlands.

As the Opposition’s soul-searching began, so too did the process for the bruised Liberal Democrats, whose own poor performance was encapsulated by the loss of their leader Jo Swinson. For the second time in four years, the Scot became the victim of an SNP surge.

In her farewell address, Ms Swinson said she had been "devastated" by the election results, in which her party took just 11 seats, down by one on the party's 2017 showing at the polls.

But she insisted she did not "regret trying" to be the "unapologetic voice of Remain" and "giving people the chance to choose to stop Brexit".

And yet it may well be the Lib Dem leadership’s decision to a)claim it could go from 20 seats to 326 seats in one giant leap to form a majority government and b)scrap Brexit altogether without another referendum put many voters off.

Ms Swinson and her advisers had been warned at the party’s autumn party conference from grandees like Simon Hughes and Norman Lamb that backing a policy to revoke Article 50 was a bad move; it would push the centrist Lib Dems to an extreme position; a mirror image of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Even at the launch of the party’s manifesto in Camden, the leader began to row back on the prospect of a Lib Dem Government, lowering her sights to simply stopping the Conservatives getting a majority.

And she later had to admit as the polls for her party went south, that the idea of her entering No 10 was “very unlikely”. Hubris, as always, was followed by nemesis.

And so, like Labour, it looks like it will take many years for the Lib Dems to claw their way back to anything like the number of MPs they had under Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy or Nick Clegg.

All the zealous converts, Chuka Ummuna, Sam Gyimah and Luciana Berger failed to secure seats under the orange banner.

With Ms Swinson’s departure, Ed Davey, the deputy leader, and party President, Baroness Brinton, were quickly installed as their party’s joint acting leaders.

Interestingly, in her valedictory speech Ms Swinson name-checked all the party’s experienced female MPs as possible successors: Sarah Olney; Wera Hobhouse; Christine Jardine and Layla Moran.

“We will reflect, regroup and refresh," declared the former party leader.

Having seen a Brexit-backing Conservative Party and the Scottish Nationalists make gains at the election, she warned of a "resurgent Nationalism" in the country and urged the party to "foster hope".

She added: "All of us who share an alternative vision for society have a responsibility to learn from these results and find new answers. Next week, is the shortest day; we will see more light in the future."

The late Charles Kennedy once said the essential quality of being a Liberal Democrat was to have eternal optimism.