03:27 GMT +316 December 2019
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    Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, pictured with former Conservative MP and Remainer Anna Soubry at a People's Vote event

    UK's Third Party in Turmoil With Ex Leader Suspended, Current Boss Set for Exit

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    The Liberal Democrats stood on a firmly pro-Europe platform at the 2017 general election but won only 12 seats and saw their popular vote fall, leading to the resignation of leader Tim Farron.

    The Liberal Democrats suspended former leader Lord Steel on Thursday night after he gave evidence to the inquiry into historic sex abuse and admitted paedophile MP Cyril Smith had confessed to him about his crimes back in the 1970s. 

    Smith went on to be knighted — after being nominated by Steel — and died in 2010 without ever being charged or prosecuted for abusing young boys.

    Steel — who is better known as David Steel — was suspended by he Scottish Liberal Democrats on Thursday night, around the same time the party's leader, Sir Vince Cable, announced he would be standing down after the local elections in May.

    Cable said he wanted to pave the way for a "new generation".

    David Steel (now Lord Steel) looks at the Queen as she gives an address at the Scottish Parliament in 2002
    © AP Photo /
    David Steel (now Lord Steel) looks at the Queen as she gives an address at the Scottish Parliament in 2002

    He became leader after Farron resigned in the summer of 2017 after the party's poor showing at the general election.

    Cable, who was Business Secretary during the 2010-2015 Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition said in September he would stand down as party leader "once Brexit is resolved or stopped."

    But with Article 50 possibly now being extended until the end of June, he has obviously decided the party cannot wait any longer for fresh leadership.

    "It now looks as if it will be a protracted process, and may never happen," he told the Daily Mail, in reference to Brexit, which he has long campaigned against.    

    The hot favourite to be the next leader is Jo Swinson, 39, who is the MP for East Dunbartonshire in Scotland.

    She was only eight years old when Smith was knighted.Smith was the Liberal MP for Rochdale, near Manchester, between 1972 and 1992 and was famous in Britain because of his huge size — he was massively overweight and was nicknamed Big Cyril.

    But the "lifelong bachelor" had a predilection for young boys, something which was known during his life but was hushed up.

    Private Eye magazine and several other publishers were threatened with libel.When Smith died he was described by the journalist Oliver Kamm in his Times blog as "a corrupt, mendacious mountain of flesh."

    Steel was Liberal leader from 1976 to 1988, having replaced Jeremy Thorpe, who was famously acquitted in 1979 of attempted murder.

    Hugh Grant played Thorpe in a BBC TV drama adaptation last year.

    Steel served as First Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament between 1999 and 2003.    

    During the inquiry into historical child sex abuse this week Steel was asked about his dealings with Smith.

    "So you understand that he'd actually committed these offences from what he said to you?" asked Brian Altman, QC, counsel to the inquiry."I assumed that," Steel replied.

    "Wasn't that all the more reason to take matters further and hold some form of enquiry?" Altman asked.

    "No, because it was before he was an MP, before he was a member of my party. It had nothing to do with me," Steel said.


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