The overwhelming favourite in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest has decided not to stand.
Jo Swinson, the newly elected MP for East Dunbartonshire, was considered to have the backing of 57 per cent of the Lib Dem membership, with no other potential candidate polling above 15 per cent.
But in a blogpost for Lib Dem Voice, Ms Swinson declared she would stand for the deputy leadership instead.
Ms Swinson said she was “touched and flattered” that so many colleagues had encouraged her to run for leadership of the party, but added: “Being the leader of a political party is a unique and all-encompassing job, even more than the roles of MP and minister that I have undertaken before. It should not be done simply to achieve status, to make a point, or to please others.
“Feminist that I am, I have of course wondered what a bloke in my position would do. It’s obvious. Most blokes in my shoes would run for leader like a shot. It’s true that my many years of encouraging women to have the confidence to go for that exciting new role have taught me that women often don’t go for things when they should. But just as often I have observed men going for the promotion when they shouldn’t. Just because a man would do it doesn’t make it the right thing to do.”
It means the contest is likely to be fought between Sir Ed Davey, Sir Vince Cable and Norman Lamb. Norman Lamb told BBC Question Time on Thursday he was “thinking about it”, while Vince Cable told The Independent he had ruled nothing out. It is possible either Sir Ed or Sir Vince will step aside for the other.
Senior figures in the party have suggested that either of these three figures could win the leadership contest, and much will now depend on the campaign, and who can set out the clearest vision for how the Liberal Democrats position themselves in a highly unusual political landscape, and who can best rebuild their base from the catastrophe of the 2015 election.