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Why Is There Still A Liberal Democrat Leadership Contest?

Can't everyone just get this over with and go on holiday?

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Remember the Liberal Democrats? They're currently having a leadership election. Except it's all a bit of a mess.

Liberal Democrats

The man holding the milk in this picture is current Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who took over the party in 2015. He led the party through a strange 2017 general election campaign dominated by questions about the his views on gay sex and a failure to cut through with a resolutely pro-EU message.

In the end the party lost five of their nine seats, gained seven seats elsewhere and somehow ended up with a total of a dozen MPs. Basically, a bit of a mess.

Anyway, Farron decided to step down a few days after the election following a slightly half-baked coup led by angry Liberal Democrat peers that saw him resign in party HQ and deliver a hastily written statement.

Clodagh Kilcoyne / Reuters

Perhaps understandably, Farron decided he would prefer the eternal salvation that comes with being a committed Christian to leading a small centrist political party.

This prompted an exciting Liberal Democrat leadership contest in which the party's other MPs would contest the right to take over a movement that still can't decide which shade of yellow it should use on its posters.

There's one problem: None of the party's MPs really want the job.

Yui Mok / PA Wire/PA Images

Here's a third of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, celebrating their arrival at Westminster by taking a selfie with Scottish leader Willie Rennie. They're very happy!

Now, under Lib Dem rules any party leader has to be a member of parliament. Excluding Tim Farron, that leaves 11 potential candidates to take the job.

The party executive decided to allow a month – until 20 July – for any of these lucky MPs to put their name forward for the job, at which point nominations would close and party members would spend a couple of months choosing a successor.

So far only Vince Cable, the MP for Twickenham and former business secretary, has declared his intention to run.


Because this is getting a bit painful – and because Tim Farron is probably due a holiday – BuzzFeed News decided to finish the Lib Dem leadership contest early.

All it required was for the final four Liberal Democrat MPs to rule themselves out.

First up was Stephen Lloyd.

Liberal Democrats

We found Lloyd, the MP for Eastbourne, in the House of Commons. He immediately ruled himself out: "I'm for the wisdom and sagacity of Vince Cable."

He then suggested some appropriate way of covering the leadership contest: "Strong and Cable! That's your headline."

Next up was Jamie Stone, MP for the Scottish Highlands seat of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.

Jamie Stone

Answering his office's own phone, the newly elected MP was baffled by the suggestion he'd run for leader.

"Absolutely not. I'm lucky to here at all in the first place and I'm a strong support of Vince's."

He's not fussed about there not being a contest.

"If it's the collective will then that's fine by me."

Christine Jardine was fairly emphatic.

Lesley Martin / AFP / Getty Images

Is the new MP for Edinburgh West tempted to mount a last-minute leadership challenge to ensure ordinary Liberal Democrat members get a vote?

"No," she said.

"It would have been good to have a contest but on the other hand I'm perfectly happy."

The final person remaining is Layla Moran.

Lib Dems

Moran, the new MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, had written a piece offering to nominate any MP who wanted to prompt a leadership contest but had not formally ruled herself out.

So is she running? "Not as far as I'm aware," said the person manning the phone in her office.

That's good enough for enough for us. And also means all the Liberal Democrat MPs other than Vince Cable (and Tim Farron) have ruled themselves out of the Liberal Democrat leadership contest.

With that in mind, BuzzFeed News is happy to announce that Vince Cable will be the next Lib Dem leader.

Daniel Leal-olivas / AFP / Getty Images

BuzzFeed News contacted Tim Farron's team and informed him that the leadership contest was over, since every single eligible candidate other than Vince Cable has now issued an on-the-record statement ruling themselves out.

This presents an opportunity for Farron to hand over immediately, enjoy an extra weekend with his family, and guarantee political journalists don't have to spend another summer covering a party's leadership contest.

Would Farron be willing to use this opportunity to step down early?

"Nope," replied Farron's spokesperson, succinctly.

Well, that was a waste of time.

Small print: This outcome may change if turns out any of the above MPs have already changed their mind, or were prompted by this article into mounting a last-ditch attempt to stop the coronation of Vince Cable in an attempt to re-create the Charge of the Light Brigade. It is entirely possible that this article will age terribly if any of the above turns out to be true. BuzzFeed News cannot be held responsible for the sometimes unpredictable actions of the Liberal Democrats.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at

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