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Who’s who in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest

Ed Davey is standing for the Lib Dem leadership and deputy leader Jo Swinson is expected to do the same. - Credit: Archant

The Liberal Democrat leadership race is taking shape as Vince Cable prepares to step down.

Just two possibilities remain: home affairs spokesman Ed Davey and deputy leader Jo Swinson.

Initial rumours had suggested that MPs Layla Moran, Tom Brake and Norman Lamb might run, but each has since confirmed that they have no plans to do so.

Sir Vince has declined to name a favourite, but a New Statesman column in March said he is rumoured to have “secretly favoured” Moran.

He proposed to amend party rules to allow non-MPs to stand for leadership, but this was rejected.

Candidates must have the support of 10% of their MPs (for the Lib Dems, this means one MP), as well as 200 party members from at least 20 different local parties.

Ed Davey has announced he will stand, while Swinson has yet to formally announce her candidacy.

With the first hustings beginning in London on Friday, it’s a matter of days before she goes public.

Both are to the right of the party, having frequently voted for the bedroom tax and for reductions in welfare spending.

To vote, you must be a party member by midnight on June 7, when nominations close.

The new leader will take over on July 23.

Ed Davey

First made an MP in 1997, Davey is now the MP for Kingston and Surbiton and the party’s spokesperson for home affairs.

Early on he was central to the Lib Dems’ efforts to repeal Section 28, which prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’.

Davey, who has been tipped for leadership twice before, has been described as almost too polite, with a soft-spoken style that doesn’t rule out bouts of emotion.

He contributed to the Orange Book, which set the tone for the free-market liberal side of the party.

“I personally think liberalism is the strongest political philosophy in the modern world,” he told Total Politics in 2014, adding that socialism has “failed” and that social democracy is “not very convincing”.

His limited-government instincts showed up in his stances on gambling machines and on technology giants’ monitoring of extremist material, neither of which he wanted to overly control – but both issues have since been subject to demands for greater government control. 
As energy secretary, in coalition with the Tories, he claimed the Lib Dem influence produced the greenest government so far. He set up the pan-European Green Growth Group, which was based on liberalised energy markets and foreign investment, but advised caution on over-reliance on Russian supply.

As energy secretary he had an about-turn on nuclear energy, approving the construction of Hinkley Point C, and attracted criticism from Caroline Lucas for arguing for at least partial use of fracking.

Announcing his candidacy on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said intends to continue his market-solutions approach to environmental issues. “I’m talking about de-carbonising capitalism, making capitalism turn green so Britain is a world green finance capital.

“That means being tough on our banks, on the stock exchange, on the pension funds, so they take account of climate risk.”

Jo Swinson

Deputy leader Swinson is MP for East Dunbartonshire and was first elected in 2005 as the youngest MP in the House of Commons.

She was elected unopposed as deputy leader of the Lib Dems in June 2017.

She leans to the right of the party, preferring ‘nudge’ methods on equalities and a light touch on business regulation.

Swinson has been unafraid to take stances that wouldn’t necessarily play well to her natural crowd, such as the time she argued for a statue of Margaret Thatcher on the grounds of celebrating the first female prime minister, or her votes against reducing university tuition fees.

As a junior equalities minister in the coalition, and as chair of the Lib Dem campaign for gender balance, her feminism is outspoken and pragmatic.

“What women need is confidence, not quotas,” she has said, arguing against all-woman shortlists – a sentiment expressed most notoriously by wearing a t-shirt saying “I am not a token woman” to a party conference.

She has also pushed for greater male parental leave, but perhaps her most striking messages on gender equity were delivered through bringing her babies to the House of Commons and, more recently, to her EU election speeches.

A proponent of flexible working, she has argued against banning zero-hours contracts, preferring measures to prevent companies abusing them.

When in government she also spearheaded initiatives to make it easier for employees to take shares in the companies they work for.

She has rarely rebelled against her party, but has voted for increased tuition fees.

On camera, she seems as comfortable on Loose Women as she is on BBC Politics Live – where she had the panel in stitches by describing the ‘alternative arrangements’ of the Malthouse compromise as “watching a group of old men who can’t operate a smartphone talking about a technology that doesn’t exist”.

She has acknowledged in interviews that the current surge in Lib Dem support comes in part from former Labour voters and that the party will have to work to keep them.

Her message to them is that the Lib Dems are “unashamedly liberal, internationalist … We say immigration is a good thing. “That the EU has been a beacon for hope, peace and human rights over decades.”

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