Lib Dem leadership hopeful Layla Moran believes she can be a “fresh start” to sever the party’s links to the Tory coalition.
The MP is the only declared candidate for the top job, but acting boss Sir Ed Davey is expected to enter the race in May.
Ms Moran, 37, was only elected to the Commons in 2017 so was not in the 2010-2015 Parliament when her party propped up the Conservatives.
In contrast, Sir Ed, 54, was a minister for all five years, including three in the Cabinet.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror, Ms Moran said: “I think some people will see me as a fresh start, absolutely – I can understand that.”
Some party insiders believe Sir Ed will have an advantage when the race opens in May because he will have been acting leader since December.
But Ms Moran said: “Ed is a stalwart of the party, he has stepped up to the plate at a very difficult time.
“But the next leadership contest is not about the last six months, it’s about the next 10 years.
“I think people want some stability now in their leader, but they also want to move on from the last 10 years – and I think I can offer them both of those things.”
Lib Dems “now deserve a choice about, ‘Can we move on and can we make a statement of moving from the last 10 years – not just coalition – or not?’,” she said.
“What I am hearing is that actually people remember (the coalition) – and there has been almost no part of the country that I have been to where it hasn’t come up spontaneously on doors, and particularly with people who are inclined to vote for progressive parties, as one of the reasons why they just don’t trust us.”
She added: “The Liberal Democrats now need to move on and start winning again.”
While Ms Moran increased her majority in her Oxford West and Abingdon constituency from 816 in 2017 to 8,943 last December, she delivered a scathing verdict on the Lib Dems’ “hubristic” election campaign.
She said: “We lost a bit of credibility, frankly.”
Ms Moran singled out the plan to revoke Article 50 – cancelling Brexit without another referendum – as one of the most damaging manifesto pledges.
“It’s very clear with 20:20 hindsight – and without removing myself from any responsibility, because I was in rooms where these decisions were being taken – but revoke and the framing of the revoke policy went down – to quote a number of members in different parts of the country – ‘Like a bag of sick’ with the voters,” she said.
“It was the logical consequence of ‘Stop Brexit’ but the framing was all wrong because it was really top down.
“It felt like, ‘We know best, we’re going to tell you what to do’, when actually a core Lib Dem value would be to go and talk to voters about what they want, then ask their permission to do something.
“It really jarred with people.”
The plan was hugely popular with the party’s overwhelmingly pro-EU grassroots – and Lib Dems in Westminster were guilty of “group think”, with too few ready to challenge the policy, Ms Moran said.
“Without other people saying things that you don’t agree with, it doesn’t make you stop and think about if it’s the right thing to do,” she added.
“There is also a feeling among voters that we became a party of slightly extreme positions.”
As education spokeswoman, and a former teacher, she wanted to “go hard” on school funding and special needs during the campaign.
“Instead we spoke about gender-neutral school uniforms,” she said.
“Great, I genuinely believe this is something that matters.
“But in an election, why are we going after issues like that, that make us look like we are only talking to a tiny minority of the population?
“One of the things that desperately needs to change is that we need to start talking to people about things that matter to them and their family.”
She also blasted Ms Swinson’s campaign boast that she could become Prime Minister, for damaging trust with voters.
The Lib Dems had 21 MPs going into the election but emerged with just 11 – with the leader the most high-profile casualty.
“The other thing many people mention was the whole, ‘I’m going to be Prime Minister’ thing from Jo,” she said.
The aftermath of the EU elections in May – where the Lib Dems came second to the Brexit Party – rightly fuelled ambitions, according to Ms Moran.
But they should have been more realistic after Nigel Farage’s decision to stand down general election candidates in hundreds of seats, she admitted.
“The mistake we made at that stage was we kept talking about it, and we should have been more nimble,” she said.
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