Liberal Democrat conference: Five things to look out for

The Liberal Democrats gather for their annual conference in Bournemouth on Saturday with a real spring in their step.

The venue may be familiar – it’s their third visit to the south coast in the past five years – but in every other respect things look rather different.

The resurgent party has a new leader, quite a few more MPs, growing political momentum and a new-found hope of playing a pivotal role in the unfolding Brexit drama.

So what can we expect over the four days?

1) Jo Swinson’s big debut

Image copyright Reuters Image caption Jo Swinson will be in the spotlight on Tuesday

Whatever else happens, the event will ultimately be defined – in terms of press coverage anyway – by Jo Swinson’s leader’s speech on Tuesday.

Her predecessors – Tim Farron and Vince Cable – struggled to achieve a real breakthrough beyond the conference hall, as the party languished in the doldrums.

This is unlikely to be the case this time, when Ms Swinson takes the stage at about 14.30 BST.

The 39-year old is a fresh face – despite being a relative veteran in Westminster. She is the party’s first female leader, as well as its youngest.

There will be a lot of interest beyond Lib Dem circles as to how she performs, the degree to which she reaches out to other parties on Brexit and her positioning on key issues.

After all, many people think a general election is inevitable before the end of the year – an election which could offer the party the best chance of progress in nearly a decade.

2) More defections?

Image copyright PA Media Image caption Will there be a surprise defection?

Following the 2015 election, the jibe that you could fit all the Lib Dem MPs into the back of a taxi was heard for the first time in a generation.

After five years of governing in coalition with the Conservatives, the party had been reduced to a rump of eight MPs in Parliament.

But now things are moving in the opposite direction, with the party’s ranks swelling to 17 (or 18 if you include one MP who has lost the whip).

Since June, two former Labour MPs, one former Conservative and a serving Conservative, Phillip Lee, have joined the party. Mr Lee’s defection, which came as Boris Johnson was addressing MPs in Parliament, was particularly dramatic.

Could we see others join them this week? There’s a reasonable chance, as parties love to unveil high-profile converts with a flourish in the glare of the TV cameras.

There are more than 20 ex-Conservative MPs sitting as independents in the Commons who are opposed to a no-deal Brexit and,

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