Woman in a hurry, chasing the keys to No.10
Could Jo Swinson ever be PM? Educated at comprehensive school, mother of two small boys, humanist, feminist and now chief anti-Brexiteer — is she the breath of fresh air UK politics needs?
Boris Johnson is an upper-class, twice-divorced, 55-year-old Etonian, who speaks Latin. Jeremy Corbyn is a twice-divorced, 70-year-old, Spanish-speaking democratic socialist, with a cat called El Gato. They have been MPs for a combined 55 years.
By contrast, Jo Swinson, a Scot, is the first woman and youngest person ever, at 39, to lead the Liberal Democrats. When elected as an MP in 2005, she was only 25 and remained the “baby of the House” for four years.
She is from a modest, stable background. Her mother was a primary school teacher; her father a town planner. She worked hard at school, won a place at the London School of Economics and got a first-class degree.
She met her husband Duncan in the Lib Dem youth movement, and they have two boys aged under six. Recently, she wrote a book called Equal Power: Gender Equality and How to Achieve It.
She was against the Iraq war, champions green taxation and campaigns against excessive packaging of Easter eggs. She supports reducing the voting age to 16, and has called for a wellbeing index to be measured alongside GDP.
Yesterday, she persuaded her party to adopt cancelling Brexit as official policy.
Oh, and every now and then, she runs a marathon.
Down to earth, warm, a good team player. If she sounds like the model of the intelligent, successful, well-balanced, engaged citizen that our parents and teachers hope we become — an everywoman for the modern age — maybe that’s because she is.
And that is partly why she believes millions of voters — especially the young — will, in the imminent general election, support her rather than the two divisive men who run the Tory and Labour parties.
Tomorrow, when she makes her big speech to the party faithful at the Lib Dem conference, she knows it will be her chance to introduce herself to a wider public.
In the English local elections in May, the Lib Dems harvested more than 700 new council seats. In the European elections, a 13% swing lifted them to second place.
Three former Labour MPs and three former Conservatives have joined the party. Membership, at more than 120,000, is now at a record level.
Could she realistically become Prime Minister?
Historically, many believe this could be a Liberal moment — a return to the glory days of Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George, when the Liberal Party seemed effortlessly to bridge the Left-Right divide. In their decline, the Liberals lost their free-market wing to the Tories, and with a widened franchise, their socially-minded wing to a rising Labour Party. The Lib Dems now have the chance to reunite these elements.
Mathematically, she hardly has a chance, say sceptics. The best chance for Lib Dems is to capture Remain seats off the Tories. But of all Tory seats that she would win with a swing of less than 10%, Swinson only has 13 to target. Even if her party won every single one, they would be on 25 seats, probably still in fourth place behind Tories, Labour and the SNP.
- Would you vote for Jo Swinson?
- Are the best leaders the people that we can identify with?
- Having read the story, think of one specific policy that Jo Swinson should adopt if she wants to win a general election. Write a short letter to her, outlining your idea and explaining why it would help her to victory.
- What is the difference between liberal (small l) and Liberal (capital L)? Research the two words, and write two short paragraphs defining each, making the distinction clear.
Some People Say...
“We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.”William Gladstone, (1809-1898) Liberal politician
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Opinion polls now consistently show the Lib Dems in the upper teens, running Labour close in the race for second place. In Britain’s new four-party battle (between Tories, Labour, SNP and Lib Dem), the Lib Dems are a prime player once more.
- What do we not know?
- What do the Lib Dems stand for if the UK has already left the EU on 31 October? If it campaigns to rejoin, will there be the same appetite as there might be simply not to leave in the first place? The danger of being the party of a lost cause is very real.
- Liberal Democrats
- In 1981, an electoral alliance was established between the Liberal Party, a group that was the direct descendant of the 18th century Whigs, and the Social Democratic Party (a splinter group from the Labour Party). In 1988, the parties merged as the Social and Liberal Democrats, and soon after became known as the Liberal Democrats.
- House is short for the House of Commons, and “baby of the House” is an informal term for the youngest MP at any given time. Jo Swinson was “baby” from 2005 to 2009.
- Green taxation
- Sometimes called an ecotax, this is a tax on activities considered to be harmful to the environment. The idea is to promote environmentally-friendly activities through economic incentives.
- Wellbeing index
- A way of measuring people’s daily experiences — often through five related areas: sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community and physical health.
- Gross domestic product, or the market value of all the goods and services produced by a nation in a set time (usually a year).
- In literature and drama, the ‘everyman’ is an individual with whom the audience or reader is supposed to be able to identify easily.
- The annual meetings of all the main UK political parties are called conferences. They are traditionally held on consecutive weeks in early autumn, usually at British seaside resorts or major regional cities.
- Collected, gathered.
- In a career lasting over 60 years, he served for 12 years as PM, spread over four terms beginning in 1868 and ending in 1894. He also served as Chancellor of the Exchequer four times.
- Herbert Henry Asquith (generally known as H. H. Asquith) was a British statesman and Liberal politician who served as PM from 1908-1916. He was the last PM to lead a majority Liberal government.
- Lloyd George
- David Lloyd George, PM (1916-1922), is best known for his roles in mobilising British resources in the World War One, and then for leading Britain to victory over Germany.