Jo Swinson has been elected as the first ever female leader of the Liberal Democrats after she inflicted a crushing defeat on her challenger Sir Ed Davey.
The 39-year-old mother-of-two will succeed Sir Vince Cable after she secured more than 47,000 votes in the contest with Sir Ed trailing far behind with just over 28,000.
Politicians such as justice secretary David Gauke, who will resign tomorrow, have now stepped in and said the Tory party could lose voters to the ‘energetic and passionate leader’.
He also said that a no-deal Brexit scenario would play directly into the hands of the Lib Dems.
A total of 106,000 ballots were issued in the contest with approximately 76,000 Lib Dem members bothering to vote – a turnout of 72 per cent. Ms Swinson said her ‘number one priority’ as leader will be ‘stopping Boris and stopping Brexit’.
Ms Swinson and Sir Ed, who both served as ministers in the coalition government, have been battling it out for seven weeks for the right to take over the leadership of the party following Sir Vince’s decision earlier this year to stand down.
The winner of the contest becomes leader at a high point in the Lib Dems’ recent history.
Jo Swinson (pictured today as the result was announced) has been named the new leader of the Liberal Democrats and will now take over from Sir Vince Cable after she defeated Sir Ed Davey (pictured on the left)
Ms Swinson, the East Dunbartonshire MP, was the favourite in the two-horse race to replace Sir Vince
Sir Ed Davey, pictured today with his wife Emily Gasson before the leadership announcement, served as energy secretary in David Cameron’s coalition government. He was viewed as the underdog in the Lib Dem leadership race
Justice Secretary David Gauke pictured above has said Jo Swinson’s leadership could cause losses for the Tory party
Who is Jo Swinson?
When Ms Swinson, 39, was elected as an MP for the first time in 2005 she was, at the age of 25, the Baby of the House – the youngest parliamentarian in Westminster.
She served as an MP for 10 years, working as a junior minister in the coalition government from 2012, before losing her East Dunbartonshire seat to the SNP in 2015.
She won it back at the snap 2017 general election and then became the deputy leader of the Lib Dems after Tim Farron quit to make way for Sir Vince Cable in the wake of the party’s poor showing at the ballot box.
She hit the headlines in 2018 after she missed a number of crunch Brexit votes because she was on maternity leave following the birth of her second child.
She had been paired with Tory Party chairman Brandon Lewis who was supposed not to vote so that her absence would not be felt.
However, he did vote in a key division, sparking a political firestorm.
Ms Swinson claimed Mr Lewis had voted on purpose in order to help the government win but he always maintained it had been an ‘honest mistake’.
The new Lib Dem leader sparked controversy during the leadership race after she claimed the UK was a ‘racist country’.
She immediately came under fire for the remark as she was accused of smearing the entire nation.
Ms Swinson is married to former Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames. They have two children.
According to The Times, Mr Gauke added that Ms Swinson ‘should not be underestimated’.
He said if the party were to narrow its support to those in favour of a no deal Brexit then it would be ‘out of touch with a lot of people who voted Conservative’.
He added: ‘It’s important the Conservative Party appeals to voters in the centre ground.’
Ms Swinson told activists after the announcement was made today: ‘Tomorrow, Boris Johnson is likely to take the keys to Number 10 and set us on a path to a damaging No Deal Brexit.
‘Stopping Boris, and stopping Brexit is my number one priority as leader.
‘That job starts with winning the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election to bring Jane Dodds to Parliament, cut Johnson’s wafer-thin majority and take us a step closer to stopping Brexit.’
Ms Swinson insisted that ‘liberalism is alive and thriving’ as she suggested the Lib Dems are best placed to counter an apparent rise in nationalism.
‘In the face of nationalism, populism, the catastrophe of Brexit the two old parties have failed,’ she said.
‘Our party has been clear on Brexit from day one.
‘We believe the UK’s best future is as members of the European Union, and that’s why, as your leader, I will do whatever it takes to Stop Brexit.
‘It’s the Liberal Democrats who can lead the renewal our country needs.’
She also claimed to be a ‘a candidate for prime minister’ and said there was ‘no limit to my ambition for our party and for our movement’.
Ms Swinson becomes the first leader of a major UK political party to have been born in the 1980s.
Sir Vince’s decision to position the Lib Dems as a ‘Stop Brexit’ party led to much better than expected results at the local elections and then the European Parliament elections earlier this year.
The Lib Dems finished the latter in second place overall as many Remain voters gave the party their support while the results in the local elections were their best ever.
The party has translated that ballot box momentum into a surge in Westminster voting intention polls with the Lib Dems even coming top of some surveys as the Tories and the Labour Party have struggled.
The new younger face of the Lib Dems
Ms Swinson arrived at the leadership announcement today flanked by Lib Dem activist Dominic Buxton (pictured left) and her adviser Sara Mosavi (pictured in green)
Jo Swinson today became the first leader of a major UK political party to have been born in the 1980s.
She replaces Sir Vince Cable who at the age of 76 is the oldest of the current crop of leaders.
Ms Swinson struck a particularly youthful tone as she arrived at the leadership announcement event flanked by young activist and supporter Dominic Buxton and her special adviser Sara Mosavi.
The party’s fortunes have also been boosted by the implosion of Change UK – another party which is also fighting for Britain to stay in the EU – and the defection of Chuka Umunna.
The Lib Dems now have 12 MPs and will be hoping for a general election as soon as possible in order to capitalise on anti-Brexit sentiment.
East Dunbartonshire MP Ms Swinson was the bookmakers’ favourite in the race having served as Sir Vince’s deputy since July 2017.
She has suggested that if Mr Johnson enters Number 10 as expected on Wednesday and delivers on his pledge to take Britain out of the EU on October 31 with or without a deal then the Lib Dems could see their stock rise still further.
Sir Vince will stand down as leader after two years in charge, having taken over the running of the party from Tim Farron in the wake of the 2017 general election.
Sir Vince wrote to party activists in May to announce his intention to stand down.
He told the party’s rank and file: ‘There are major challenges ahead. One is to win, finally, the battle to stop Brexit.
Sir Vince Cable leaves his role as leader of the Liberal Democrats after two years in charge of the party
The Lib Dems have seen a reversal in their fortunes of late with the recent addition of defecting Change UK MP Chuka Umunna boosting their ranks in parliament 12 MPs
‘Our campaigning has given hope; now we need to secure a referendum in Parliament, and then win it.
‘Another is the opportunity created by the conflict and decay within the two main parties to build a powerful, liberal, green, and social democratic force in the centre ground of British politics.
‘We are now in an excellent position to lead such a movement’.
Before the leadership announcement was made, Ms Swinson paid tribute to Sir Vince.
She said: ‘Before we find out who will lead Lib Dems next, I want to thank Vince Cable for all that he has done as our Leader over the last two years.
‘He has been the voice of reason in unreasonable times & led our party to our best ever local & European election results. Thank you, Vince.’