Author Archives: Rob May

Jo Swinson interview: part 5 – contemporary politics and what she’s doing now

This is the fifth and final part of an interview which took place during the Party’s Spring Conference in York. Events have somewhat overtaken it, as you will realise when you get to the end… The first part of the interview can be found here, the second part here, the third here and the fourth here.

As I’m sat opposite a prominent Scottish Lib Dem, I must ask you about the recent call by the SNP for a second Scottish independence referendum. What are your views on independence for Scotland and is Theresa May right to refuse

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Jo Swinson interview: part 4 – the battle for greater equality

In yesterday’s third part of the interview, Jo talked about a range of issues from Easter eggs to body image. Today, it’s the turn of equality issues, both in society and within the Party. The first part of the interview can be found here, and the second part here.

Perhaps, what you are best known for is your continual fight for gender equality. You were the Minister for Women through much of the Coalition. In your recent article in the Huffington Post, you paint a bleak picture of the current state of the road towards gender equality and what, as a society, we need to do at both macro and micro levels. In your heart of hearts, do you ever think equality for women will be achieved?

I challenge the premise of your question slightly. It’s not just about equality for women, but it’s also about equality for men. Gender inequality harms men as well as women. The words ‘gender’ and ‘women’ are not interchangeable. If you think about men’s role as fathers and about the pressure on males in terms of masculinity and what it means to be a man, the stats on male suicide rates and male mental health issues are really worrying.

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Jo Swinson interview: part 3 – campaigns, social media and a political hero

In yesterday’s second part of the interview, Jo talked about how she entered politics and, subsequently, Westminster. Today, the conversation turns to Easter eggs and body image… The first part of the interview can be found here.

Throughout your time in office, one of your bugbears appears to be excessive Easter egg packaging. Seeing as Easter is upon us, I thought it would be an apt topic to discuss. At face value, this doesn’t seem a particularly important issue, but when you realise that the excessive packaging causes thousands of tons of waste each year, it clearly is a reasonable concern. You started campaigning on this in 2007 and have even named-and-shamed the main culprits. Has the situation improved in ten years?

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Jo Swinson interview: part 2 – first steps in politics and what it’s like to be a young woman at Westminster

In yesterday’s first part of the interview, Jo spoke of how she entered politics and why. In today’s excerpt, she talks about what it is like to be a young woman in politics and how she dealt with it….

TIME IN POLITICS

From watching you on YouTube and from sitting opposite you here listening to you speak, you come across as very confident and it’s difficult to imagine you suffer from nerves. When you were 21 years old and stood for parliament, were you nervous? And do you still get nervous nowadays?

Of course. I was nervous going up

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Jo Swinson interview: part 1 – an introduction and life before politics

Prior to this interview, I obviously knew who Jo Swinson was and was aware of some of the issues she has championed over her 10 years in office but, while researching her, I was surprised to find that a relatively young politician had been actively involved in so many campaigns. Jo’s avid use of social media combined with her willingness to openly and energetically support these causes has clearly enhanced her profile. Jo was one of the first politicians to take new and modem forms of technology seriously. She joined Twitter shortly after it went live and a simple YouTube …

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Sarah Olney interview part 3: Politics

You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

It’s not even been two years since you joined the party, and you are now sitting in the famous House of Commons. Has it sunk in yet?

Not really. One of the things I think is quite strange is how familiar it is when you enter because you see the House of Commons on tele so much. It doesn’t actually feel that strange in there. The weirdest thing I’ve experienced while there was when waiting for one of the votes, the Article 50 one I think, I was chatting with Caroline Lucas, and I got a text from my husband saying ‘You look really grumpy!’ It was just the weirdest thing. I was just sitting there having a chat, and my husband is watching me on the tele at home. When someone does something like that, it’s really weird.

In your short time as an MP, what are your likes and dislikes of the role so far?

The best bit is getting out and meeting people. I see people doing all sorts of different things. As an accountant, I was chained to my desk for eight hours a day while seeing the same old faces. Now I get to go into schools, workplaces and hospitals. I’m meeting different types of people, including staff, customers and patients. You get such a better idea of how the world works and how different people relate to each other. That is fabulous and a real privilege. It’s only MPs who get the opportunity to do that.

I like having the opportunity to contribute to the debates I feel passionate about. There was a schools funding one recently. It was brilliant to be able to stand up and talk about something I care about. I have kids at school, and my dad’s a teacher. To speak about that and, hopefully, to have some impact is great.

I dislike the way some people feel that they are entitled to have a go at you just because you are an MP. You might not have done anything in particular, but you are there to be shouted at.

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Sarah Olney interview part 2: The Richmond Park campaign

You can read part 1 here.

You were up against a well-supported, well-known and well-funded opponent in Zac Goldsmith, how did you win?

I was very lucky. I won’t deny it. I had the full Lib Dem by-election machine behind me. Because we thought we could win, they decided to really go for it. I had a group of people who knew what they were doing. They built a fabulous team and mobilised all those volunteers. I was very fortunate to have that support.

We were also able to fundraise. This was important, as we managed to neutralise Zac Goldsmith’s advantage over us. You would think finances would be his huge advantage, but there is only a certain amount you are allowed to spend, and, through fundraising, we were able to spend as much as he was.

It was so important to have all those thousands of volunteers descend to Richmond Park. They pounded the pavements. They delivered leaflets and canvassed. There is no substitute for doing all the door-to-door work over many weeks. I was so so lucky that so many people came and helped.

I think Zac helped too by running his own not so good campaign. And having run that mayoral campaign, it did put a lot of people off.

Are you not missing something?

Am I? What?

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Sarah Olney interview part 1: Before becoming an MP

You get bad people in power because good people are doing other things.

Sarah Olney

Imagine, for just a second, less than two years ago you were living in relative obscurity. You were known to only a select few people – friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues. You belonged to no political party. Then, in only a few months, you rose from anonymity to the hottest national topic of the day, creating history along the way. The contrast is almost unimaginable. In short, that’s the story of Sarah Olney.

Five months have yet to pass since she overturned a 23,000 majority to pull off an incredible by-election victory, over the well-known Zac Goldsmith, to become MP for Richmond Park. The Lib Dems newest parliamentarian was attending her first party conference as a backbencher (and only her second since joining the party). In between handshakes and selfies, Sarah took half an hour from her busy schedule for an interview with me, over tea and cake, in the Conference’s Parliamentarians Lounge.

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Lynne Featherstone interview part 3: Same sex marriage and life as a Minister

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. This is the final instalment of our chat. You can read the others here.

You were and still are a campaigner against important issues such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child abuse and violence against women. However, perhaps your greatest achievement is being the originator and architect of the equal marriage act, which was passed into law in 2013. No party had equal marriage in their 2010 manifestos nor was it part of the coalition agreement. Why did you take this issue on and why is it important to you?

When we entered into coalition, 20 ministerial posts had to be filled. After two days, I received a call from Nick Clegg offering me the post of Equalities Minister. In fact, I ended up with three-quarters of me as a Home Office minister and one-quarter as Equalities Minister. So I’m a minister in the coalition, we have Liberal Democrats in government, and I’m thinking to myself ‘I’ve got to do something to make sure everyone knows that there are Liberals in this government’. It never crossed my mind that it wasn’t in the manifestos or portfolio because to me it was an obvious piece of equalities work that needed doing. Labour were great with civil partnerships, but I thought they were a kind of apartheid – one rule for gay people and one rule for straight people. My view is that you should have marriage and civil partnerships for both gay and straight, both for both. The state’s job is to facilitate that union, not to judge if one is good or one is bad.

We were all new Liberal Democrat ministers and didn’t have a clue what we were doing, so the Institute for Government put on a morning instruction for newbie Liberal ministers. They invited Michael Heseltine and Andrew Adonis to advise us. Heseltine said ‘you are going to be really busy. You do not understand the tsunami of work that will hit you when you become a minister. You will have debates, orals, speeches, correspondence and endless other things. Your diary will be full from morning to night. If you do not ruthlessly prioritise one or two things you want to get done in your time in the sun, you will not achieve it. You will be a very good minister doing very important things but you won’t have done anything you went into politics for’. Adonis encouraged us to trust our civil servants. He said it wasn’t like The Thick of It or Yes Minister, although, I have to say, I thought it was quite like Yes Minister! He told us  ‘If you don’t direct your civil servants, they will fill your diary from first thing in the morning until midnight, all with very worthy things but you’ll just be executing what they want you to do. If you trust your civil servants, you have to direct them. They will go to the ends of the earth for you’. As I walked back from the Institute for Government to the Home Office, it just crystallised in my brain that I wanted to do same sex marriage because it was a piece of equalities legislation that needed doing. I came back into my office and said to one of my assistant private secretaries ‘I want to do same sex marriage, what do I do?’ That is literally how it started.

If I hadn’t had that morning, we would not have same sex marriage. It’s really strange how things happen.

Can you explain the process? What did you have to do?

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Lynne Featherstone interview Part 2: The future

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. This is the second instalment of our chat. You can read the others here. A more detailed discussion of the path to same sex marriage will appear tomorrow.

Of your achievements in politics, where would you put the equal marriage bill? 

Oh, right at the top. It is the most public. It is the most clear cut and obvious. But it shares with others. Clearly the FGM campaign wouldn’t have happened. I am incredibly proud of it because I find it extraordinary that we allow a practice such as this to go on in this country and around the world. I always say that if they were chopping off half a boy’s willy, this practice would not have lasted four seconds let alone four thousand years. This is because we don’t rate women and girls.

The one that people don’t know about is the disability in the developing world campaign, which I’m incredibly proud of. I changed the structure on how we give money. I refused to give any money to any educational charity working in the developing world unless they had totally accessible schools. That made a huge difference.

That is the thrill of politics – you can use it to try to make the world a better place. It sounds terribly naive, but that’s what I went into politics for. I was one of the very few lucky people who managed to do some big things. I got a lot of satisfaction at every level, but there’s nothing like being a minister.

Along with many other Lib Dem MPs, you lost your seat in 2015. What are you up to now?

Yes, I did lose my seat. For the first two weeks, I laid on the sofa eating chocolate and drinking alcohol while watching every episode of 24 and all the Harry Potter films. That was an excellent start to my new life!

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Lynne Featherstone interview Part 1: Early life and influences

As Minister for Equalities in the recent coalition government, Lynne Featherstone was the originator and architect of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. She has received various accolades and awards for her work on equalities. In his book Gay Shorts (2015), the former Conservative Party politician turned broadcaster and member of the LGBT community, Iain Dale said that:

Same-sex marriage will be associated with Lynne Featherstone in the same way that we associate David Steel with the 1967 Abortion Act and Roy Jenkins with the legalisation of homosexuality.

In the hours following the icy gales of Storm Doris, I caught up with Lynne at Taunton’s most distinguished hotel, The Castle. The previous evening, she spoke at a party fundraiser in East Devon. After our interview, she was heading off to another commitment,as the guest speaker at the Bridgwater and West Somerset Liberal Democrats annual dinner. She is certainly a woman in demand! Among the bustling crowd of Saturday night revellers, who were making good use of the historic hotel’s bar and restaurant, Lynne and I managed to find a table and a couple of chairs, tucked away in a reasonably quiet corner.

In the hour that I had with the Lib Dem peer, I wanted to cover a lot of ground. Obviously, the subject of her new book Equal Ever After was going to dominate much of the conversation. Besides the same sex marriage bill, I wanted to find out more about the former MP and her life before  and after her time as Minister.

You are a north London girl, could you tell me a bit about your childhood?

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  • User AvatarTom Harney 21st Oct - 3:52am
    I would like to think that it is everyone’s duty to put forward ideas on how our country should be run. There is a lot...
  • User AvatarDavid-1 21st Oct - 12:23am
    It is not merely the task of a democratic opposition to hold a government to account; it is also (and, I might add, primarily) their...
  • User AvatarDenis Loretto 20th Oct - 11:20pm
    Just on the VONC issue it can be said that Jo was too quick in pointing out the impossibility of Corbyn getting the necessary support...
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    John Marriott, here is my explanation: leavers in 2016 had indeed no clue and were lied to. Their vote had nothing to do with the...
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    @Nigel Jones No actually. Should Bulgaria raise it's minimum wage from 1.7 euros per hour to be on part with ours? Or should Sweden, Norway,...
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    "The last thing we want is a race towards the USA’s methods under which too many people work excessive hours; we have already gone far...