In Depth

Who will be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats?

Jo Swinson among favourites to take over after Vince Cable announces he is stepping down

Vince Cable has announced that he will step down as Lib Dem leader in May.

The former business secretary had previously said he would stand down as party leader “once Brexit is resolved or stopped”, but in a new interview with the Daily Mail, he said: “It now looks as if it will be a protracted process, and may never happen.”

In a statement to the party’s members confirming the decision, the 75-year-old said: “I set considerable store by having an orderly, business-like, succession unlike the power struggles in the other parties. So I wanted you, our members, to know that, assuming Parliament does not collapse into an early general election, I will ask the party to begin a leadership contest in May.”

Cable refused to name his preferred successor, but former coalition minister Jo Swinson, former energy secretary Ed Davey and the party’s education spokeswoman Layla Moran have all been tipped as possible candidates.

“We’ve got several very good internal candidates - you can work out who they are. The worst thing I can do is to start promoting them,” Cable told the Mail.

The veteran politician, who will remain an MP, admitted he had presided over a “gradual” rather than a “spectacular” recovery of the party.

The Lib Dems currently have 11 MPs and have been overtaken in the polls by the Independent Group (TIG) - “which is quite an achievement, given it’s just a few weeks old and not even a party”, says Politico’s Annabelle Dickson. 

In an interview with the BBC's Newsnight, Cable conceded that the establishment of TIG by breakaway Labour and the Conservatives MPs as a new “centrist” force had drawn media attention from his party. 

But he added: “We have made a lot of steady progress after two very difficult general elections.”

Last autumn, Cable announced a proposal to change party election rules to allow non-MPs to stand for the top job and to allow non-party members to vote for the next leader.

Anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller addressed the Lib Dem annual conference last year and earned “a better reception than many of its MPs”, notes the BBC, but she insists she will neither join the party nor run for leader.

“No, no, no, I’m definitely not doing that,” Miller told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. 

So who is most likely to succeed him? The Week looks at the runners and riders.

Jo Swinson

The deputy leader of the Lib Dems, who served as equalities minister in the coalition government, is currently the bookmakers’ joint favourite to replace Cable. But given that she withdrew her name in the early stages of the last leadership race, it remains unclear if Swinson has any desire to head the party.

Willie Rennie, head of the Scottish Lib Dems, said Swinson would be a “fantastic” leader. “She’s so professional, an incredible performer and a really intelligent woman,” he said.

Layla Moran

Despite being a relative newcomer, education spokesperson Layla Moran is another early favourite. The MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, who was first elected in 2017, “is seen as a capable media performer, and a fresh face in a party which only has three MPs under 50”, says Business Insider.

However, The Sun points out that she also ruled out a leadership bid in the last contest, saying that as a newly elected MP she wanted to concentrate on serving her constituents.

Ed Davey

The MP for Kingston and Surbiton is well liked within the party, and bookies and commentators believe he stands a strong chance of winning if he were to throw his hat in the ring.

Davey, who served as energy secretary in the coalition, chose not to stand last time around. In an article in June 2017 on a political blog, he wrote that he wanted to spend time with his young family and protect them from the “inevitable intrusion on our lives”.

But he did not rule out a possible future bid, adding that he wants “to play a big part in rebuilding our party, and taking it into power, at all levels of government”.

Norman Lamb

The MP for North Norfolk, a minister in the business and health departments during the coalition, ran unsuccessfully against Farron in 2015 and declined to stand in the last leadership race.

Lamb has made no comment on Cable’s planned departure, but welcomed the proposed change in rules to allow non-MPs to stand. He told Sky News: “There may be other dynamic people out there beyond the parliamentary party who could have a significant impact on the future of liberal progressive politics, so why exclude them?” 


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