The Liberal Democrats are seeking to move quickly from their near-wipeout in the election by choosing a new leader by mid-July, in a contest expected to be a head-to-head between Tim Farron and Norman Lamb.
The party is planning a swift process to replace Nick Clegg after the devastating loss of 49 of its MPs on Thursday night. It will take nominations from candidates from this Wednesday and the winner will be announced on 16 July.
To get on the ballot, a candidate must have the endorsement of 200 members from 20 local Lib Dem parties as well as 10% of the parliamentary party. After their heavy losses, this last requirement is now irrelevant as it amounts to needing the support of less than one MP. The membership will then cast their ballot under an alternative vote system.
Farron, a former party president, is the frontrunner to take the top job and is seen as the key figurehead on the left of the party. The Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, one of eight Lib Dems to retain his seat, has said the party needs a fresh start but that he wants to speak to “members, councillors and activists” before deciding whether to run for leader.
Lamb is more aligned with the politics of the coalition, having served as a health minister. He is considered a centrist, and has also not yet declared any intention to run.
A third possible candidate is Alistair Carmichael, who served as the Scottish secretary under the coalition and was the only Lib Dem to retain his seat in Scotland.
The party says it has registered an extra 5,000 members since Thursday, citing this as evidence that there is still appetite for its politics.
Sal Brinton, the Liberal Democrat president, told Sky News: “Members of the public are saying we want a Liberal voice in Britain and they are doing it in a very motivated way, coming straight on to the website and joining.”
“We know we have some major elections to fight next year, the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the London assembly as well as a very large number of council seats. We don’t have to wait, we’re out there campaigning now.”
The two frontrunners
Farron has long been on the left of the Lib Dems and was a critic of many coalition policies, including the bedroom tax. He voted against raising tuition fees and is seen as less tainted by association with the Conservatives than some of the other possible candidates. A committed Christian who grew up in Preston and was educated at a comprehensive, he worked in higher education at Lancaster University. He was elected president of the Lib Dems in 2011 and subsequently took on the role of foreign affairs spokesman for the party.
Lamb is a former employment lawyer who once worked for a Labour MP but ended up joining the Lib Dems in the 1980s. He made it into parliament on his third attempt, in North Norfolk, and was re-elected for this fourth term this time. He has had various jobs in the Lib Dems including health spokesman, chief of staff to Sir Menzies Campbell, parliamentary aide to Nick Clegg, business minister and care minister. Lamb is regarded as a sensible and well-liked figure in the party but critics may question whether he has the charisma of Farron.
This article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 10th May 2015 16.36 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010