Simon Hughes has been elected as deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat party.

The bisexual MP for North Southwark and Bermondsey, 59, replaces Vince Cable, who stood down to focus on his new business secretary role.

He was backed by 38 of his party’s 57 MPs and has a good voting record on gay rights.

Mr Hughes said this morning he would ensure his party retains a “clear and distinct” voice in the coalition government.

The politician, who has twice failed to become party leader, had only one contender for the post – fellow left-winger Tim Fallon, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

Mr Hughes told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme it was good to have a deputy leader who was not a minister.

He said: “There is a particular benefit, I hope, in having a leader who is in government and a deputy leader who is not a minister that the whole of the Lib Dem party and our message and our voice, can be heard clearly and distinctly from the fact we are also in coalition.

“By definition, being in coalition does not mean we cease to be Liberal Democrats with the views and ideals and characteristics that come with that party, with that great tradition.

“There will an ability to say things about the position of the Lib Dem tradition that, by definition, Nick Clegg cannot do in the same way because he is in a coalition government of which, of course, we are supporters and part.”

In a statement last night, deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Mr Clegg said: “I am delighted Simon has been elected as deputy leader.

“Simon has been a huge figure in the Liberal Democrats for decades. He’s a tireless campaigner, a relentless fighter for the vulnerable and marginalised in our society, and one of the hardest working MPs parliament has ever seen.”

Mr Hughes, a barrister, is one of his party’s more prominent media voices. He has been the Liberal Democrats’ president and was energy and climate change spokesman before the election.

He was elected as MP for his constituency in 1983 following a controversial campaign in which his party presented him as “the straight choice” against out gay Labour candidate Peter Tatchell.

He denied being gay for years but came out as bisexual in 2006 after being outed by a newspaper during his campaign to win the party leadership.

He has since apologised to Mr Tatchell for the homophobia of the 1983 by-election.