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Interim Liberal Democrat co-leaders left to pick up the pieces

By Rachel Steinberg
December 13 2019, 12.30

On the morning of Boris Johnson’s early Christmas the Liberal Democrats handed over the reins to their sleigh and hoped for a happier New Year.

The party announced deputy leader Sir Ed Davey and party president Baroness Sal Brinton would serve as interim co-leaders until a new boss is chosen in 2020.

Jo Swinson, 39, who had led the Lib Dems since July, lost her Dunbartonshire East seat to the SNP’s 27-year-old candidate Amy Callaghan by 149 votes.

The party’s constitution states the leader must hold a seat in Parliament.

Lib Dem election chair James Gurling issued a statement following Ms Swinson’s defeat.

He said: “We wake this morning to a double blow.

“A Conservative majority government, hell-bent on pushing Brexit through, and the loss of our leader Jo Swinson from Parliament.

“There is much we can build on from here, and we will be careful to learn the lessons to build for the future.”

With only St Ives and the Isles of Scilly to be declared Ms Swinson’s loss means the Lib Dems’ best hope is to break even on seats in the next Parliament.

Bad weather delayed boats from collecting ballots from smaller islands in the Cornish archipelago.

The constituency is one of the most marginal in the UK.

Since 2010 it has been a battle between Conservative Derek Thomas and Liberal Democrat Andrew George.

In 2017 Mr Thomas beat Mr George by just 312 votes.

The Liberal Democrats last held the seat in 2010 when Mr George won by a margin of just 3.7%.

Sir Ed and Baroness Brinton are now left to pick up the pieces and determine where it all went wrong.

The interim co-leaders were both named in early speculation around who would succeed Ms Swinson.

Other candidates proposed included Hanover-born Bath MP Wera Hobhouse and Layla Moran, the returning Oxford West and Abingdon whose vote increased by 9.5% since 2017.

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