Could stopping Brexit be the start of a Lib Dem race back into power sharing?

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

Jo Swinson meets delegates at the party conference in Bournemouth. Credit: PA

Bournemouth on a Sunday afternoon and the sun is high in the September sky. It feels like the last rays of summer.

The Liberal Democrats began their party conference here on Saturday and there’s a sense they’re also basking in the glow of what every party wants and needs: momentum.

The party did well in the European elections, a clear Remain message was heard loud and clear by their supporters and lots of Tory remainers.

Many Labour voters who were dismayed by their party trying to appeal to both leavers and remainers, with what many found to be a confusing two-sided Brexit policy, preferred the Lib Dems’ pure Remain flavour as well.

The Lib Dems open their party conference in Bournemouth. Credit: PA

There are now 18 Lib Dem MPs in the House of Commons, their number boosted by recent defections.

There are expected to be more who choose to switch sides and join their ranks.

There are secret talks going on with both Conservative and Labour MPs.

Expect more defections to be announced in the coming days, probably from the growing group of dispossessed independents.

Luciana Berger left Labour to form the Independent Group, then defected to the Lib Dems. Credit: PA

The Lib Dem’s also have a new leader, Jo Swinson, who will oversee a policy shift on Brexit.

The party passed a motion to make revoking Article 50 their main Brexit promise.

That’s full-on stop Brexit.

A step further on from their previous second referendum strategy.

It’s an underlining of their Remain credentials and another bid to outflank Labour which is wrestling with its own pro-Remain tendencies.

Swinson has told party members that they should “prepare to go back to their constituencies and stop Brexit”.

An echo of a previous Liberal leader, David Steel, who in 1981 famously told delegates to “go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”.

Back then, that optimism proved to be overly, perhaps naively, ambitious and haunted that party leader for the rest of his career.

Former Liberal leader Lord David Steel. Credit: PA

Now we live in very different and more unpredictable political times.

With another election expected before the end of the year, mid to late-November is the best guess for polling day, the Lib Dems do have a chance to grab real power.

With another hung parliament predicted, just as Nick Clegg was cast as "king maker" in the 2010 election, Jo Swinson could be crowned "coalition Queen".

It all depends on whether the Party can attract disgruntled Labour and Conservative remainers in large enough numbers.

As it stands, the election will effectively be a second referendum with Brexit overshadowing the usual list of voter concerns.

The Lib Dems could end up being the power brokers.

However, Swinson has ruled out coalitions with Jeremy Corbyn, or the Conservatives for that matter, but an election outcome which gave the Lib Dems a clear mandate, and the chance of seats at the Cabinet table, might well change that stance.

The Lib Dems are clear on their position on Brexit. Credit: PA

The main danger for the Lib Dems is that the switch to a revoke Article 50 headline promise is potentially short-term.

If the government gets a deal and the UK leaves at the end of October, before an election, then much of their momentum will be lost.

They can still argue that if they got into coalition they could reverse Brexit but that’s a more complicated scenario and for many voters may well seem like looking in the rear view mirror.

The party will also go into an election with around a third of their MPs not elected as Lib Dems.

Constituents may well prefer to choose someone fresh or with more consistent loyalties.

In those seats, expect the former party of the defector to launch a vigorous campaign as revenge for disloyalty.

The Lib Dems may well be enjoying some political sunshine but with stormy times ahead the forecast for their election fortunes is about as reliable as the weather itself.