Monday, 1 July 2019

Why I'm backing Jo Swinson to be Lib Dem Leader


The Independent this week suggested that the Lib Dem leadership election hadn’t caught light. Well, perhaps not; but that’s an indication of the quality of candidates, and the fact that the vast majority of members would be as happy with either Jo or Ed in the role. Readers are invited to compare and contrast this to both the current Tory or past two Labour leadership elections…

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a long time Jo Swinson fanboy – from winning her seat at the age of 25 when she was the “baby of the Commons” (how infantilising is that?), to her campaigning on body-positivity, to her work on shared parental leave and promotion of women in boardrooms, to her book “Equal Power” (a primer on practical feminism), to her regaining her seat in 2017, her tenure as Deputy Leader, and now, as potential Leader of the party.

Over that time, I’ve seen her perform in hostile environments: on Question Time, in the Commons, and across the news and television media, as well as in less hostile environments such as Conference. She conducts herself with grace, dignity and humour, whilst fighting her – our – corner hard, and seeks to connect with people. For me, when it comes to reaching out and getting cut-through in the media, Jo has the edge. Indeed, in my pre-activist, Conference-going days, when all I knew of Ed was from his TV and radio appearances, he had never made much of an impact on me. He is much more personable in, well, in person than on screen: but we can’t get him on every doorstep! This for me is the major role of our leader and, as with our last leadership, it’s the single most important factor.

Many suggest that Ed has been stronger on policy in the campaign although suggestions that Jo’s campaign has been a “policy free zone” are laughable. However our leader does not set policy and whilst they can give a direction and steer, Conference can vote this down. Our departing leader found this out over the more unwise aspects of the Supporters Scheme proposals, and Conference repeatedly voted against Clegg’s attempts to water down our opposition to new runways at London’s airports. So the test with regard to policy is not “what policies will you implement?” but “how will you respond when Conference supports something you don’t?” On this, I have more confidence in Jo, as I do on her willingness to work within the party’s structure more widely: our committees and our (Specified) Associated Organisations.

It has also been commented that Ed’s campaign has been slicker. This would appear to be true – he was first off the mark, he (or, more likely, his team) slipped into people’s Twitter DM’s to canvass support early-doors, he produced region-specific literature for hustings, and managed to issue two pieces of addressed literature to Jo’s one. The second of these was a bit of a “wall of text” and landed at the same time as Jo’s magazine-style leaflet, which had the benefit of being un-enveloped. Whatever, we’re not hiring a campaign chief, and it is to be hoped that the skills and talents of those organiser for Ed will not be lost to the party.

One of the things that may have livened up this contest would have been Layla Moran* running. It seems she came close before deciding not to. For many in the party she would have marked a break from the past: a post-coalition MP without the baggage of having been a minister. I think, in some ways, the public are ahead of us in moving on from the coalition: our vote in the European Elections was over double that of 2015. On its own I might not put too much weight on that, but Westminster poll after Westminster poll is now suggesting that the local and European election results have caused people to re-appraisal how they view us at national level too. It should be remembered too, that most of our members are post-coalition. All that said, some of our opponents will hold Ed’s record as Secretary of State for Climate Change against him: specifically, his past support for fracking and the Hinkley Point Nuclear deal. Jo has fewer such controversial decisions to defend, and has outlined how we need to make clear that we did make mistakes in some of the concessions we made to the Tories.

There are other considerations, but I have generally omitted where their qualities, in my judgement, are balanced. I have also tried to avoid the type of endorsement that says “candidate X has the credibility to lead” or “the NHS would be safe under X as PM”. We should be above framing endorsements this way when the same could be said about either candidate unless we really do want to imply that candidate Y lacks credibility or wants to sell off the NHS.”

There is one major difference between them, though; something the Independent suggested was a bonus: Jo is a woman. Now, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not supporting her *because* she is a woman. I’m supporting her for the reasons outlined above and others, and for me she has the qualities I want in a leader, irrespective of gender. However electing Jo would mark a break with the “male and pale” history of our leadership: are we to have our third Knight as leader before we have the first woman?

1 comment:

John Sweeney said...

I read your article and thought to respond. I know Ed personally and have great admiration for him.

I am backing Ed Davey for the leadership campaign. Your analysis to support Jo seems to boil down to gender and an ability "to connect". I think a LibDem leader needs to have very strong strategic thinking and negotiating ability. I feel Ed has the edge on that. Ed's record and accomplishments as Secretary for Energy and Climate Change are something to be proud of rather than to apologise for. On top of that he connects enough to build a 15,000 majority from an inital 56.

Ed does offer a vision on future direction and its centred around climate change and decarbonising the economy. You lament the fact another candidate is not running which suggests your support for Jo is not that strong. I would back Ed whover else was standing.

You admit Ed has run a better campaign but suggest this is not a significant difference. I consider Ed's attention to detail and preparation for this campaign indicates how he approaches all contests. He wants to win. To suggest Ed's campaign team would be as effective without his leadership and input is a bit hopeful.

Ed supporters, including many prominent LibDem women, recognise Ed's experience, character and team-building qualities edge Jo's many gifts. Ed has encouraged and supported many women and other underepresented groups to stand as Liberal Democrats. I think candidate gender should not be mentioned when so many women, BAME and LGBT members are already backing Ed.


Thanks for writing the article and its great we have two very capable candidates.