- The Liberal Democrats need a new leader after Jo Swinson lost her seat at the general election.
- The party’s leadership contest is set to officially get underway in late January.
- The new leader will be tasked with redefining the party’s purpose after it failed to stop Brexit.
- Layla Moran and Ed Davey are the current frontrunners to succeed Swinson.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Liberal Democrats will soon begin the process of electing their third leader in less than a year after Jo Swinson lost her seat in a shock result at this month’s general election.
The pro-European Union party secured 11 House of Commons seats last week, one fewer than it won at the 2017 general election. Swinson lost her East Dunbartonshire constituency to Scottish National Party candidate Amy Callaghan.
The next leader of the Liberal Democrats will be tasked with establishing a new raison d’être for the party after it failed to stop Brexit. Boris Johnson, boosted by an 80-seat majority, is set to take the UK out of the EU in January.
The contest is expected to officially get underway in late January with party figures keen to choose Swinson’s successor before the Labour Party chooses its new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn.
A Liberal Democrat source told Business Insider: “Now more than ever, the country needs a strong opposition. Given the frothing civil war on Labour benches, you can bet it won’t be Labour stepping up to the plate.”
They added: “The questions the candidates must answer is just how they see the UK’s relationship with our European partners, how the party converts support into seats and on what issues the party will carve out as our key fights over the next few years.”
Here are the likely candidates in the race to become the new leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Moran is widely regarded as the favorite to win. One senior party figure told Business Insider: “It’s Layla’s to lose.”
Senior Liberal Democrats including current members of Parliament urged Moran to go for the leadership when the party last held a leadership contest earlier in the year. Swinson and Ed Davey ended up being the only candidates.
At the time, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon believed it was too soon to go for the top job, having only been elected in 2017. She also wanted to focus on shoring up her majority, after winning her seat with a majority of just 816.
However, last week she was returned to Parliament with a much bigger majority of 8,943, meaning she is in a more secure position to go for the leadership this time around.
Moran, who is the first UK MP of Palestinian descent, is popular with Liberal Democrat members. Her supporters say her pitch is strong because unlike the party’s two most recent leaders, she did not serve in coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives, and will not be grilled on her party’s record in government like her predecessors were.
Moran has on a number of occasions called on her party to be more lucid in explaining what it represents.
In her last interview with Business Insider, she said the party ought to whittle down its pitch to handful of clear policies, saying: “We are very good at talking about a whole host of things but then people ask ‘but what do you actually stand for?'”
Moran’s closest leadership rival is set to be Ed Davey.
The MP for Kingston and Surbiton is the party’s co-interim leader along with outgoing party president, Sal Brinton.
Davey ran to be Liberal Democrat leader earlier this year, but lost out to Swinson. He has so far evaded questions on whether he intends to run this time around, but party figures expect him to stand.
Supporters say he’d be best choice for the Liberal Democrats as he has the most developed idea of what the party should be and what it ought to stand for now that the mission to stop Brexit has failed.
A party figure who supported Davey in the last leadership contest said that compared to Swinson, he was more focused on issues other than trying to stay in the EU, and wanted to talk about “the intellectual beating heart of the party.”
They said that Davey was best-placed to help the party figure out a new purpose.
“We are a bit bruised, Brexit is almost certainly going to happen, and some of those single-issue supporters are going to peel away,” they told Business Insider.
Davey put fighting climate change front and centre of his last leadership campaign.
Speaking in the House of Commons this week as the party’s interim leader, he told Speaker Lindsay Hoyle that the Liberal Democrats would prioritise tackling the climate emergency in this new parliament.
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, is said to be considering a leadership bid.
Formerly a prominent journalist in Scotland, Jardine was first elected in 2017 and is a popular figure within the party.
One party figure who intends to support Jardine if she decides to enter the upcoming leadership contest described her as a “live underdog” who “might surprise a few people.”
“She’ll start as third favorite but she’s very good on TV and has not had same exposure as Ed and Layla,” they said.
However, while an impressive leadership campaign would likely help Jardine raise her profile, the odds of winning would still be heavily stacked against her.
Lib Dem figures point to the fact that she recently failed to win the contest to become the party’s next president, losing out to grassroots party blogger, Mark Pack.
Daisy Cooper has been only an MP for a matter of days, but has indicated that she could stand to be party leader.
Cooper, who was elected the MP for St Albans last week, told LBC that her lack of parliamentary experience was not a big issue. She unsuccessfully ran for Parliament twice before winning her seat in southeast England this month.
“I’ve worked in campaigns for a long time,” she told the radio station. “I’ve got big ambitions for what we can achieve in parliament as a small team in the Lib Dems.”
Lib Dem figures say that while Cooper has very little chance of winning the upcoming contest, throwing her hat in the ring would help her secure some valuable exposure early in her House of Commons career.
She is highly-rated within the Liberal Democrats and seen as a leading light among its next generation of politicians at a time when the party has lost some of its most seasoned and well-known MPs in Swinson and Sir Vince Cable.
Cooper is close to Swinson and worked on her leadership campaign earlier this year.
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