Jo Swinson on leadership, the importance of humility and meeting a hero

This afternoon, Jo Swinson will be speaking at the “Aye Write” book festival in Glasgow.

Ahead of that, she gave a long interview to the Sunday Herald. Here are some of the highlights:

She talked about how the author of the book she had requested as a prize at school had got in touch with her:

When Jo Swinson was a teenager, studying at Douglas Academy in Milngavie, she was awarded the Senior Dux prize for achievement, and was given a trophy plus a book of her choice. What she opted for, as she describes in her book Equal Power: And How You Can Make It Happen, was a popular title by Kate White, a journalist who would later go on to edit Cosmopolitan. It was called Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead But Gutsy Girls Do.

Swinson croons her enthusiasm when I mention the book. Recently, she tells me, she gave it a mention in a World Book Day article and as a result the author got in touch with her. “I’m just so over the moon about this,” says Swinson. “I got this email from her last week, out of the blue, saying I’m so touched that this book made such an impact. She said she’d like to meet up for a coffee. I’m so beside myself with excitement that I’ll have to try not to be a dreadful fan girl.”

She also explained why she had not gone for the Lib Dem leadership last year.

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What Liberals need to do for the ‘left behind’

‘Left behind’ is a relatively new term to describe communities in the UK who have, economically speaking, fallen behind the more prosperous parts of the country.  The reasons for this socio-economic phenomenon are varied, but amongst them are: de-industrialisation; the effects of globalisation; and power that is over-centralised to Westminster.

As Liberals, why should we care about the left behind?  Some may argue it is because there were large numbers of voters in these communities, generally speaking, who voted to leave the EU (though whether it was anything to do with the EU is arguable).  Therefore, getting them ‘on side’ would increase our chances of an ‘exit from Brexit’.

However, as Liberals who fundamentally care about social justice, we should now be responding urgently to these communities, as these are the very people who stand to gain the most from Liberal policies.  Liberal values are at the heart of progressive policies that respect and value the individual, regardless of background and personal characteristics, and seek to maximise opportunities for all, so that it is not only the individual who gains, but whole communities and ultimately the country.  By targeting the ‘left behind’ we can move society on more significantly than by targeting any other group.

Paul Hindley, in his chapter in the SLF’s most recent publication Four Go In Search Of Big Ideas, makes an eloquent case for a new system of social rights, that at this moment in time, would give the ‘left behind’ a stake in our society, some dignity, and hope. As he says:

The intractable problem of our political age is: how do liberals and progressives reach out to left behind communities? How do we defuse populism, tackle economic inequality and revive a positive sense of community in the age of Brexit and identity politics? If liberals cannot reach out to the most deprived and alienated communities, to the places that most need social justice, then there will be no meaningful future for progressive politics.

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LibLink: Nick Clegg: Brexiters wanted to take back control but we risk losing control of Ireland

Nick Clegg has been in Ireland this week talking about Brexit with fellow Remainers Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis.

In his iPaper column, he talks about the massive problems Brexit will cause.

We also share responsibility for a precious peace in Northern Ireland. But too many ministers, including the Prime Minister, have treated these obligations as inconvenient obstacles on the way to the hardest of Brexits. It was the same situation during the referendum, when leading Brexiteers were quick to dismiss any concerns about the Irish border. But there is no avoiding the obvious consequences of the British government’s determination to interpret the 2016 referendum result as a mandate to take the UK out of the Single Market and the Customs Union. Doing so will see a land border created between the EU and the UK for the first time, and if the tariffs, standards and regulations adopted by the UK diverge from that of the EU, then a working border, with customs checks, will be unavoidable.

So how do we get out of it? Parliament, Nick says, can vote it down, but some people just shouldn’t bother turning up because they just won’t help:

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Review: Read Towards a Liberal Future by David Howarth and Bernard Greaves

In his conference speech, Vince Cable talked about having a party “fizzing with ideas.” But to be able to present a liberal vision with liberal ideas, you have to have a clear understanding of liberal values and of how they should be applied in every area of our lives. In Towards a Liberal Future, David Howarth and Bernard Greaves set out their view of what liberalism is all about. They look at how the party has failed to practice and communicate its core values and set out how we can fix this. I’m very excited to say that they have allowed us to share their book with you here.

The authors have a long history in the Party. It’s nearly 40 years since Bernard Greaves co-wrote “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics” and 10 years since he co-wrote “The Theory and Practice of Community Economics.” David Howarth is a former Liberal Democrat MP and Councillor who has returned to the academic life since he stepped down from Parliament. More recently, he’s developed the idea of Core Vote Strategy with Mark Pack and it’s no surprise that that plays a part in the book’s strategy for our recovery.

Vince seems to take the implied criticism in their analysis of how we got to where we are on the chin in his foreword to the book:

It starts from the proposition that the party has ‘lost its way’ producing an incoherent mixture of ‘local champions and national pragmatists’ (the latter, presumably including me, being the people who went into Coalition).

It seeks to revive the party’s long term vision and, in my view, does so brilliantly.

The authors don’t merely blame the coalition for our demise. That, they argued, started with the concentration purely on winning local elections without a national over-arching vision.

From where it all went wrong, Howarth and Greaves take us through a definition of liberal values and some examples of how we could translate them into various policy areas. 

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Who knew knocking on strangers’ doors could be such fun?

“I don’t mind delivering leaflets, but I wouldn’t want to do canvassing.” My thoughts exactly, a few months ago. I joined the Lib Dems in the aftermath of the EU referendum, determined to do something to demonstrate my frustration at the direction the Tory Government was leading us. Delivering leaflets was a positive activity and in the excitement of the 2017 General Election, I felt I was doing my bit. But over time, it has become clear that the task to influence public opinion and make the Government take notice of the 48% is huge. The leaflets were great, but I couldn’t help wondering how many of them went straight in the recycling bin. What could I do that would make more impact with my time?

I began to wonder again about canvassing. Research shows that people are 20% more likely to vote if they have been visited by a canvasser: even a just a smile and a friendly greeting is enough to make a difference. But I was worried about what it would be like. Would I be on the receiving end of angry householders determined to give me chapter and verse of their views, or would there be endless doors slammed in my face? Eventually, I summoned up some courage and went along to an action day to find out.

I was surprised to find how pleasant the experience was. When I arrived, I was paired up with an experienced canvasser and we went to each house together. We only called at houses where previous canvassing had shown that the owners were open to voting Lib Dem, which meant that we had a friendly reception at nearly every house. There was a list of questions to ask, depending on how much the householder wanted to chat: a surprising number were happy to stand on the doorstep and tell us their concerns about the local area and Brexit. It was fascinating to find out what people thought and how they saw the local scene and the national picture. When we found someone who was willing to join the mailing list, have a stakeboard in their garden or even become a volunteer, it was a cause for celebration! At the end of the morning, we all gathered at a pub for lunch and to share our stories. After that, I was keen to have a list of my own to do.

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Observations of an ex pat: Facebook faces the music

Facebook’s stated mission is “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

It also has an unstated mission: To make a shedload of money.

It is incredibly successful at both.

There are 2.2 billion active Facebook users.  Mark Zuckerberg is worth $67.7 billion.

But the rest of society is discovering that there is a price to be paid in invasion of privacy and erosion of political liberties.

The problem is that the posted holiday snaps, political opinions and declarations of love don’t belong to you.  They belong to Facebook who run the data through clever algorithms  to work out just what you are likely to want to buy. They sell that analysis to advertisers who use the information to micro-target consumers on Facebook.

No longer do advertisers have to spend tens of thousands of dollars for a page in a glossy magazine to reach 200,000 users of which possibly only two percent will be interested in their product. They now pay a fraction of the old price to reach 200,000 Facebook users whose information  that they entered on their  Facebook page reveals them as a prime target.

What is wrong with that? Advertisers reach a highly targeted international market which opens the possibility of global trade  while consumers are offered the opportunity to buy the sort of goods and services they want at the best possible price.

That must be a good thing. Yes it is. Unfortunately it does not stop there.

Enter Cambridge academic Professor Aleksandr Koga and Cambridge-based digital analytical firm Cambridge Analytica. Dr Koga, a psychology professor who invented an app which extracted information on 250,000 Facebook users AND all of their connections—a total of 50,000,000 Facebook users. He said he wanted the information to produce psychological profiles.

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Lib Dems GAIN a Council seat in Aylesbury

Good news from Aylesbury where new Cllr Waheed Raja gained the Central and Walton ward from the Conservatives.

We actually lost this ward by a single vote back in 2011. It’s great to see Waheed and the team win it back with a really good swing.

During my long time in the East Midlands, I knew that Worksop was not exactly a Lib Dem hotspot, so it was good to see a respectable result from a standing start for Leon Duveen in the Worksop South East ward:

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarTony Greaves 24th Mar - 3:34pm
    This is a brilliant pamphlet which calls for the return of democracy as the basis of our Liberalism. But if I can quibble with your...
  • User AvatarSue Sutherland 24th Mar - 3:04pm
    I welcome any thoughts about what we need to do about the increasing number of people who are struggling to make ends meet because, for...
  • User AvatarSue Sutherland 24th Mar - 2:53pm
    This is a very welcome paper because it creatively links our values with policy ideas, although it doesn’t deal with the controls needed to avoid...
  • User AvatarChristopher Curtis 24th Mar - 2:42pm
    As far as I can see, the data collected was within the permissions given by Facebook users at the time. There's nothing yet to suggest...
  • User AvatarJohn Marriott 24th Mar - 2:33pm
    I’ve just checked out what ‘Harry Lime’ actually said. It was “500 years of democracy and brotherly love” and he was comparing Switzerland with renaissance...
  • User Avatarjay 24th Mar - 2:30pm
    @Chris Cory Major, Heseltine and Soubury? Soubury's an awful politician. But I suppose the Lib Dems have a habit of jumping in bed with the...