Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Britain Decides: Jo Swinson targets national resurgence of the Lib Dems

The Glaswegian politician looks to transform the party’s European election success into national election success

Britain's Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson poses for a photograph at the back of her campaign bus on the way to Midsomer Norton for her first engagement as part of the General Election campaign trail, in Somerset, England, Thursday, November 7, 2019.Aaron Chown/PA via AP
Britain's Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson poses for a photograph at the back of her campaign bus on the way to Midsomer Norton for her first engagement as part of the General Election campaign trail, in Somerset, England, Thursday, November 7, 2019.Aaron Chown/PA via AP

As the winter general election approaches in the UK, Jo Swinson, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, hopes her party will be a thorn in the side of the usual frontrunners, the Conservatives and Labour.

The Glasgow-born politician is looking to lead the resurgence of a party that suffered severe damage in a 2010 coalition government with the Conservatives. Then-deputy prime minister and leader of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg couldn’t keep to one of his main campaign promises: to scrap tuition fees. Instead, fees rose from £3,000 to £9,000 a year.

Voters, especially younger ones, punished the Lib Dems for this. In 2015, the party lost 49 seats and two-thirds of its national share of the vote. Two years later, the national vote share fell again to only 7.4 per cent.

But under Vince Cable’s and later Ms Swinson’s leadership, the party has remerged from the fringes by claiming to be the only major anti-Brexit party. Although that party line used to be associated with Labour, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, it has lost its reputation for being pro-European.

In the European elections in May this year, the Lib Dems came second with 20.3 per cent of the vote, behind the Brexit party but beating Labour and the Tories for the first time since 1906. Ms Swinson, 39, wants to transform the party’s European election success into general election success.

Ms Swinson began her parliamentary career in 2005, when she was elected to the House of Commons as MP for East Dunbartonshire during the general election. She served under the 2010 coalition government, where she begun as parliamentary private secretary to then Business Secretary Vince Cable.

In February 2012, Ms Swinson replaced Norman Lamb as Parliamentary Private Secretary to then-Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, holding the post until her promotion to business minister later that year. Since then, she worked her way up to become leader of the Lib Dems in 2019, making her the first woman and youngest person to have held the position.

Historically, she’s been strongly against causes such as the Iraq war and the Trident nuclear weapons system. More controversially, she has also voted against plans to ban fracking in Britain and also called for polarising former prime minister Margaret Thatcher to have a statue made of her in Parliament Square. She justified her decision on feminist grounds.

Regardless, Ms Swinson sees this election as chance for the Lib Dems for hoover up disenchanted remain voters and, given her commitment to preventing Brexit, she may well be successful.

Updated: November 7, 2019 05:30 PM

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