Jo Swinson quits as Lib Dem leader after losing her own seat

Peter Walker, Simon Murphy and Libby Brooks

Jo Swinson has stepped down as Liberal Democrat leader with immediate effect after losing her seat on a grim election night that left her party with 11 MPs.

Swinson, who started the campaign presenting herself a candidate to be the next prime minister, lost her Dunbartonshire East constituency to the SNP by 149 votes, having regained the seat only in 2017.

A party statement said Ed Davey, the deputy leader, and Sal Brinton, the president, would take over as joint interim leaders pending a leadership election in the new year.

Swinson called the election result “hugely disappointing”, but said she was proud her party had “stood up for openness, generosity and hope”

With nearly all the 650 results in, the Lib Dems were on 11 seats, one down from the 12 secured in the 2017, despite a significant gain in vote share, up to 11.5% from the 7.4% seen in the last election.

The Lib Dems lost all the defectors from other parties who had swelled their number of MPs to 21 before the election.

Among those who fell short were the former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger, and the ex-Conservative Sam Gyimah, who had been placed in London seats the Lib Dems believed winnable. Other former Tories such as Phillip Lee and Antoinette Sandbach also lost.

Among other Lib Dems to be ejected was Tom Brake, the party’s Brexit spokesman, who had held his Carshalton and Wallington seat since 1997.

However, the party held on to some close-run seats in Scotland, and had some success in a handful of remain-minded seats. In Richmond Park in south-west London, Sarah Olney removed the Tory minister Zac Goldsmith.

The Lib Dems won in St Albans, the Hertfordshire constituency that voted heavily in favour of remain in 2016, beating the Tories.

default

Overall, it appeared set to be the party’s second-worst performance in its 31-year modern history – better only than the slump from 57 to eight seats in 2015 – and will prompt a postmortem into a campaign based heavily around courting remain-voting areas.

Swinson pushed through a largely symbolic policy promising to revoke Brexit without a second referendum in the unlikely event the Lib Dems won a majority, intended to distance their policy from Labour, but the source of some later disquiet.

It marks a calamitous reverse from only a few months ago, when the party was polling above 20% and senior Lib Dems were confidently predicting a total of at least 80 MPs.

Sarah Olney offered one of the few moments of cheer for the Lib Dems on election night. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

In her speech at the count after losing, Swinson highlighted a “wave of nationalism” sweeping “both sides of the border”.

“But let me say now, for millions of people in our country these results will bring dread and dismay and people are looking for hope,” she said. “I still believe that we as a country can be warm and generous, inclusive and open, and that by working together with our nearest neighbours we can achieve so much more.”

Related: Lord Buckethead gives Boris the finger, but Johnson gets last laugh – Election night TV review

In Richmond Park, Olney won back the seat from Goldsmith with a 7,766 majority, in a blow to the Tories.

But in Sheffield Hallam, the old seat for the former leader Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems lost by 712 votes to Labour despite the exit poll showing an 86% chance of them winning.

The party was also unsuccessful in overturning a Tory majority in the target seat of Lewes, East Sussex, where the comedian Steve Coogan, a staunch Labour supporter, had publicly backed the Lib Dems. The Tories again frustrated Lib Dem hopes in Winchester, winning by fewer than 1,000 votes.

One issue for the Lib Dems seemed to be a lack of effective tactical voting, not least as in some seats it was not clear whether they or Labour were the better option for anti-Conservative locals.

In the north London seat of Finchley and Golders Green, Berger lost by more than 6,000 votes to the Tory incumbent, Mike Freer, with the third-placed Labour candidate polling more than 13,000 votes.

Similarly, in the Cities of London and Westminster seat, Umunna’s losing margin to the Conservatives, just under 4,000, was significantly less than the 11,000-plus won by Labour.

But in Kensington, where Gyimah had been touted by the Lib Dems as a likely winner, he came a fairly distant third, with his 9,000-plus votes contributing to Labour losing the seat by just 150 votes.