Lib Dems bidding to succeed Vince Cable as leader were jockeying for position tonight as they arrived for their Spring conference.
The party chief has vowed to quit after May’s local elections, firing the starting gun on a race for his job.
Undeclared frontrunners as the party faithful gather in York include former Business Minister Jo Swinson and rising star Layla Moran.
The party’s welfare spokeswoman Christine Jardine backed her fellow female Scot Ms Swinson for the top job.
While claiming “there are a few people who could lead the party”, Ms Jardine told the Mirror: “Jo Swinson is someone with the talent, the drive and the ambition for the country to do a good job.
“She was a great minister, she’s got the experience to do it and I think that’s significant - you need to know how government works.”
Ms Jardine ruled herself out of the leadership race saying she lacked the experience for the role having first been elected in 2017.
“Is inexperience ever a good thing in an important job?” said Ms Jardine.
“I think what we need is someone who knows what they are doing, and someone who has the experience and reputation which Jo has for getting things done.
“As a new MP, my focus needs to be on my constituency and winning my constituency the next time round and making sure that they have got an MP that’s listening to them, as opposed to aiming for the leadership.”
Current and former Lib Dem officials are lining up in rival camps as the leadership contest gets underway.
Some will see Ms Jardine’s intervention as a rebuff to Ms Moran, who joined the Commons just two years ago.
She has a majority of just 816, compared with Ms Swinson’s 5,339.
As well as ex-Business Secretary Sir Vince’s decision to stand down, the conference will be dominated by Brexit .
Parliament is deadlocked and the Lib Dems demand a second referendum as the price of backing a pact.
They have twice rejected Theresa May ’s deal - but Ms Jardine was unable to say what it would take for the party to support an agreement.
Repeatedly sidestepping the question, the ex-journalist insisted: “That’s actually for the Government to come up with, that’s not for us to come up with.”
Demanding a second referendum, the committed Remainer added: “There isn’t a deal that’s as good as the one we’ve got.
“For me the deal has to be staying in the EU. She (the PM) is not going to come back with that.”
Ms Jardine will use her first speech in her new work and pensions role to demand a halt to rollout of the Government’s flagship benefit overhaul.
She pointed out the Conservatives only raided the budget for the shake-up when they were freed from coalition shackles.
Backing the Mirror’s Stop the Universal Credit Cruelty campaign, she said: “Universal Credit was a great idea but when they took the money out in 2015 as soon as we weren’t looking over their shoulders and making sure that they did what they promised to do, the first Budget after the coalition George Osborne took £3billion out of the budget for Universal Credit, and it hasn’t really worked since.
“They need to pause it, look at the problems and fix it.”
Ministers have pumped some of the £3billion back in and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has delayed the rollout to most existing claimants.
A trial of just 10,000 people will start in mid-2020 as Ms Rudd tries to iron out flaws before it is extended.