Jo Swinson has apologised to the Liberal Democrats for a dismal election in which she lost her seat and the party slipped to 11 MPs, but said she did not regret fighting on a defiantly pro-remain platform.
Naming some of the MPs ejected as her party lost 10 of its pre-election tally of 21, including the Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake, and all the recent defectors from the Conservatives and Labour, Swinson said: I’m so sorry I couldn’t get them re-elected.
In a speech to party activists, Swinson said she had been an unapologetic voice of remain in this election. The stance prompted some criticism inside the Lib Dems, notably the pledge to revoke Brexit without a second referendum if the party won a majority.
Obviously it hasn’t worked, Swinson said. And I, like you, am devastated about that. But I don’t regret trying.
Castigating what she said was the failure of the Conservatives and Labour to tackle racism in their ranks, Swinson said she was fearful for the future: Our country is in the grip of populism, with nationalism resurgent in all its forms.
Swinson stepped down immediately as party leader, a job she only took in July, after losing her East Dunbartonshire constituency to the Scottish National party by 149 votes, a seat she had only regained in 2017.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem deputy leader, and Sal Brinton, its president, will take over as joint interim leaders ahead of a leadership election in the new year.
In her speech, Swinson hinted strongly that she would like her successor to be a woman, naming and praising the party’s seven female MPs, three of them new. I’m proud to have been the first woman to lead the Liberal Democrats, and even more proud that I know I won’t be the last, she said.
After a buoyant autumn conference at which party insiders cited 80 seats as a likely minimum benchmark for an election, Swinson led the Lib Dems to their second-worst performance in the party’s 31-year modern history, better only than the slump from 57 to eight seats in 2015.
While the party had a significant gain in vote share on Thursday, up to 11.5% from the 7.4% in 2017, the new leader will face a postmortem into a campaign based heavily around courting remain-voting areas.
The Lib Dems lost all the defectors from other parties who had swelled their number of MPs to 21.
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 seen as winnable. Other former Tories such as Phillip Lee and Antoinette Sandbach also lost.
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.
But elsewhere the Lib Dems were hampered by what seemed to be a lack of effective tactical voting, not least because 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.