And the next leader of the Liberal Democrats is…

A look at the contenders for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats after Nick Clegg steps down.

One tipped as a future leader of the Liberal Democrats, Chris Huhne’s political career is all but over.

It would require a Lazarus-style comeback for him to get anywhere near the leadership of the Lib Dems again – and more than that to get as close as he came in 2007 when he narrowly lost out on the top job to Nick Clegg.

But Clegg is not going to be around forever.

There is some speculation that, come the next election, Clegg will step down or be forced out – a poll last year found that half of Lib Dem members want Clegg to resign before the next election.

Who, then, are the movers and shakers in the race to become the next Lib Dem leader?

Tim-Farron-Vince-Cable-Danny-Alexander-Jeremy-Browne-Sarah-Teather-Lembit-Opik

In the running

Tim Farron – odds at William Hill: 2/1

The amiable face of a party which has learnt that a sandal-wearing, all-things-to-all-people image does not sit comfortably with the exercise of power, Farron comes across (on programmes such as Question Time, at least) as a model social democrat.

However Farron is increasingly comfortable in coalition with the Tories. At last year’s Lib Dem conference, he refrained from attacking the party’s coalition partners and instead used his speech to accuse Labour of having a “distinctly authoritarian character”.

Vince Cable – odds at William Hill: 5/2

Much like Tim Farron, once upon a time Vince Cable was one of the few Liberal Democrats that Labour supporters instinctively warmed to. The public seem to like him, too. Prior to the 2010 election, they voted him as their number one choice for chancellor of the exchequer.

The heady days of 2010 feel a world away now, however, as Vince does the coalition’s bidding at the Department of Business, Skills and Innovation.

Danny Alexander – odds at William Hill: 12/1

George Osborne’s foil at the treasury since 2010, Danny Alexander takes the hits on programmes like the Daily Politics so his boss doesn’t have to.

This may go some way to explaining his unpopularity with the party grassroots, with a poll on Liberal Democrat Voice last year revealing that party members preferred David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague to Alexander.

Wild card

Jeremy Browne – odds at Ladbrokes: 20/1

Widely considered to be a true believer in the Orange Book, Browne sits on the opposite side of the party to those with more social democratic leanings, such as Vince Cable and Chris Huhne.

Comfortable with privatisation, public service reform and fiscal conservatism, what’s surprising about Browne is that he hasn’t already reached the cabinet.

Watch this space.

Outsiders

Sarah Teather – odds at William Hill: 40/1

By opposing the coalition from the left, Sarah Teather has carved out a space for herself as the conscience of the party.

She had done, at least, until she marched through the lobby and voted against gay marriage last night. This, despite the fact that her website implies that she supports same-sex marriage.

She also needs to improve her stand-up routine if she is ever to deliver leadership-worthy conference speeches.

Lembit Opik – odds at Ladbrokes: 100/1

Enough said.

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