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How likely is Chuka Umunna to become next Lib Dem leader?

Chuka Umunna’s defection to the Liberal Democrats on Friday is a major coup for the party. Umunna is a respected and politically able figure, who was once tipped as a future contender for Prime Minister and is an asset to any party. Immediately Lib Dems started to speculate about his future leadership credentials. It is expected that several other former Change UK MPs will defect, but none with the star power as Chuka.

This was amplified when Vince Cable described Umunna as one of several “good people coming through the ranks" to contest in a future leadership contest at Umunna’s unveiling as a Lib Dem MP. The Telegraph has additionally reported that several Lib Dem MPs expect Umunna to be running for leader within a year.

This is all while a Lib Dem leadership contest between Jo Swinson and Ed Davey is ongoing. Both are capable, both cover similar centre ground within the party, and both are looking in inherit a party that is far healthier than they expected when they started planning their run. In essence, both agree on most things and it is difficult to see how this contest leads to the kind of divisions that would make a leadership contest within the year likely.

But it is no secret that Chuka would like to guide the party to what he sees as solid nationally electable ground on the economy and social issues, and ditch some of the baggage that accumulates over years as a third party.

A senior Lib Dem figure told me:

“Chuka’s in for a fight if he wants to run for leader. He spent a lot of time in Labour when we were running against them and that’s going to bring baggage to any leadership challenge. He’ll really need to prove that he’s bought in to our core values and show respect to the parts of our party that really dislike Labour’s legacy in government.

On the other hand, if he is able to do that he could win. He’s a well known figure who could bring with him new voters and I know some of our members are already getting excited that he could play a high profile national role in the party.”

The question of how he becomes leader still remains. Neither of the current leadership challengers are running in the caretaker capacity that Cable was in 2017 and aren’t going to stand aside just in time for someone new to come in before the next election. It is also hard to see how either is going to become unpopular enough for the party to want to remove them before they naturally want to go.

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