Brexit is the best thing to happen to the Lib Dems, but who is best to lead them?

It may not be the burning question you’ve given much (or any) thought to, but next week the Tories aren’t the only party picking a new leader.

On Monday, the Liberal Democrats will provide Westminster’s warm up by announcing their replacement for outgoing leader Vince Cable, 24 hours before Britain’s new Prime Minister is revealed.

For 100,000 or so Lib Dem members, it’s a choice between deputy leader Jo Swinson - a 39-year old former business minister in the coalition government - or 53-year old Sir Ed Davey, who earned his knighthood for his work as Energy Secretary in the coalition government.

And speaking of coalition government, it’s best not to mention coalition government around either Swinson or Davey.

I interviewed both candidates this week, and like a cheating partner caught by an angry spouse, they promised never to go back.

“No. Never. No deals, no coalition,” insisted Ed Davey.

Jo Swinson was equally vociferous. Under no circumstances would she ever enter into coalition with Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson.

In fact, both said they wouldn’t need to anyway, because under them the Lib Dems were going to become the largest party in Parliament, and win the next general election.

“I believe I can be Prime Minister,” was a sentence used by both Swinson and Davey on more than one occasion during our interviews, each time with a straight face.

Vince Cable has led the Lib Dems to strong showings in local and European elections. Credit: PA

They may only have 12 MPs and no historical evidence to suggest they can get enough to take power alone, but there is no doubt the little yellow bird is flapping its wings again, and it has Brexit to thank.

Despite believing it’s a disaster for Britain, Brexit has been the best thing that could have happened to the Liberal Democrats.

It has given a new lease of life to a party on the brink of extinction not so long ago.

Tainted by the toxicity of a those coalition years which saw them nearly wiped out in 2015, the Lib Dems once again have a purpose, a reason for being, and most importantly - a reason for people to vote for them again.

Their recent resurgence has been built on being everything Labour and the Conservatives are not - clear and united on the biggest issue of the day. The traditional British party of protest has become the ultimate protest vote for those opposed to Brexit - if you want to stay in the European Union, you know exactly where to mark your 'X'.

A relentless pursuit of the Remain vote has made them relevant again.

Tim Farron deserves credit for this. In 2016, weeks after the EU referendum, the then-Lib Dem leader said there should be another one - a confirmatory vote on whether the British people really want to leave on the terms negotiated by the government, or in fact stay in after all.

Three years later, it is (soon to be official) Labour Party policy and the rallying cry on which millions have marched.

It’s the flag under which Farron’s successor Vince Cable marched the party to big gains in the 2019 European and Local Elections, ensuring his successor inherits a party heading in the right direction.

The question for Lib Dem members is who can be best trusted to keep it that way?

Jo Swinson is odds-on favourite to become the party’s first female leader.

Her energy and youth will no doubt appeal to the tens of thousands of new Lib Dem members who have joined since the referendum.

But her opponent has performed well at hustings events, playing heavily on his cabinet-level experience to insist he has the credibility to covert lost Labour and Tory souls.

On policy, there is very little between them.

Both Swinson and Davey have ruled out any deals with Labour or the Tories. Credit: PA

Stopping Brexit, a focus on climate change and a pledge to straddle the centre ground between what they both describe as “the two extremes” of Corbyn’s Labour and (probably soon to be) Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are at the heart of both campaigns.

The key question comes down to how they’d deliver the referendum they both want.

Neither will enter a formal coalition, they made that perfectly clear.

But Swinson seemed more open to the idea of cross-party cooperation, describing herself as a “pluralist” and “non-tribal”.

Davey said he would vote for any Queen’s Speech that included the promise of a people’s vote, but that is as far as he went.

How far the next Lib Dem leader will be willing to work with other parties could be crucial, certainly in this current dead-locked Parliament, and potentially in the next.