In Depth

Who will be the next Liberal Democrat leader? The odds

Layla Moran confirms her candidacy as party cancels its spring conference

The Liberal Democrats have cancelled their spring conference after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

Party members had been due to meet from Friday to Sunday in York, where former leader Jo Swinson was due to deliver a farewell address.

However, Ed Davey, who is acting as interim co-leader with Mark Pack, said: “In these highly unusual circumstances, we have come to the right conclusion to cancel conference.”

It comes as the party is due to select a new leader this summer.

MP Layla Moran is the latest to confirm her candidacy, describing the party's Brexit policy in the December general election as a “big mistake”.

She told Sky News at the weekend: “I believe it’s time that we move on as a party and offer a positive vision for the country and I’m the right person to lead that vision.”

So who will take the job on full time? Here are the potential runners and riders, with the bookies’ latest best odds for each.

Layla Moran 11/10

Moran was first elected as an MP in 2017, when she claimed the Oxford West and Abingdon seat from the Tories, and was re-elected with an increased majority in the December general election. A former teacher, she currently serves as the Lib Dem’s spokesperson for digital, culture, media and sport. 

Moran made headlines earlier this year when she revealed that she is pansexual, and in a relationship with former Lib Dem press officer Rosy Cobb.

She is the first MP of Palestinian heritage to be elected to parliament, as she told the i news site following her first election victory. “My Palestinian background has made me interested at a global level. Politics was always at the dinner table, it primed me to engage,” she said.

Moran has spoken out in favour of better funding for schools and against the closure of Sure Start centres. 

Ed Davey 6/4

Davey ran against Swinson in the Lib Dem leadership election last July, when he narrowly missed out on first place, instead becoming deputy leader. A vocal pro-EU voice, Davey - who speaks French, German and Spanish - campaigned for a People’s Vote on the final outcome of Brexit.

He identifies as a classic liberal, telling Total Politics magazine: “I personally think liberalism is the strongest political philosophy in the modern world. Socialism has failed. I think even social democracy... is not very convincing, and I don’t really understand where the Conservatives are coming from.”

He has also said that he believes in a “free market and in competition”, arguing in defence of privatisation, deregulation and the private sector.

Davey has been an MP for the London constituency of Kingston and Surbiton since 2017, and previously between 1997 and 2015. During the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government, he served as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Davey was knighted in 2016 for “political and public service”.

Daisy Cooper 11/1

When asked about the party’s leadership race following the December election, newly elected Lib Dem MP Cooper told The Telegraph “not to rule anything out” and that she had “big ambitions”.

Cooper had run Swinson’s leadership campaign before becoming the first Lib Dem MP for St Albans, where she beat incumbent Conservative MP Anne Main and increased her party’s vote share by almost 18%.

Outgoing leader Swinson highlighted Cooper, a diehard Remainer, as “one to watch” in her resignation speech.

Prior to becoming an MP, the possible leadership contender worked as an advisor for the Voluntary Service Overseas charity, for the Hacked Off campaign for victims of press abuse and for cross-party group More United. 

Wera Hobhouse 25/1

Hobhouse launched her bid to become leader last month.

First elected in 2004 as a Conservative councillor on Rochdale Council, Hobhouse defected to the Lib Dems the following year over the Spodden Valley asbestos controversy - the proposed development of 650 homes on an asbestos-contaminated site.

She became an MP in 2017, winning the Bath constituency, and has fronted a successful campaign to outlaw “upskirting”.

Born in the German city of Hanover, Hobhouse has previously voiced concerns that the UK public would reject a non-British leader of a major political party. 

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday Politics West following the December election, she noted that the media often refer to her as “German-born”, adding: “I need to have that discussion of whether being a first-generation immigrant is standing in the way of the Liberal Democrats fighting prejudice and anti-foreigner sentiment.”

She has also spoken out about the “toxic” immigration debate in the UK, and cites former US president Barack Obama and 18th-century British politician William Wilberforce, a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade, as her political idols.

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Christine Jardine 33/1

The Scottish Lib Dem has held her Edinburgh West seat since 2017, claiming election victory despite the death of her husband from a heart attack during the campaign. She is now the party’s spokesperson on home affairs and women and equalities.

Prior to entering politics, Jardine was a journalist for BBC Scotland and a Press Association editor. In 2011, she was appointed Scotland media advisor to the coalition government.

Jardine ran to become Lib Dem Party president last year, but lost out to Mark Pack. Announcing her candidacy for that role in September, she said that Lib Dems should be an “open, diverse, forward-looking party”.

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