Door knocking, Deputy Leader and Honourable Friends – Interview with Jo Swinson MP

This afternoon, I had a chat with Jo Swinson, MP for East Dunbartonshire, new Deputy Leader of the Scottish Party. Now that I’m going all high tech, I actually recorded it. Or, at least, my 11 year old daughter set up the voice recorder on the laptop and showed me how to work it. This is a great way to interview someone because you can have a proper chat and don’t have to worry about taking notes. I’d asked Jo for a five minute chat and we actually talked for 21 minutes, covering everything from the vibe on the doorsteps in her constituency to her work for children with allergies, her new role as Deputy Leader, the Body Confidence Campaign, gender specific marketing, sport, Strictly Come Dancing and her recent trip to Nigeria with VSO.

I’ll divide the interview up into several smaller sections, but I’ll pretty much type it as she said it – you want to hear from her, after all, not me:

Firstly, I couldn’t imagine that she’s capable of going for more than a few days without knocking on doors, which she confirmed:

I’ve been knocking on doors every week and I’ll be doing that this weekend.

I asked what sort of feedback she was getting on the doorstep.

Well, it’s interesting because sometimes when you look at the newspapers you assume that people are still caught up in the Westminster bubble but despite coalition it’s interesting how many people are raising local issues like leisure centre or Tesco’s plans to double their store size with a horrible building so politics is local is as true as it ever was.  Of course some people have been talking about the Coalition. It depends very much on where they’re coming from – some people are concerned about it and some people are saying to me that it’s really refreshing that you have parties working together and taking the tough decisions even if they know they might not like the cuts that are coming many people know that it’s needed.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of positive comments about the Coalition and I wanted to know if she’d had the same experience:

Obviously because I’ve spoken to a lot of people so I’ve had some people not being happy with it. During my Summer tour when I went to 50 locations on my Summer Tour, spoke to hundreds of people but very few were angry – and of those who were, many were Labour voters anyway.

Was she able to persuade people of the benefits we are bringing to Government?

Definitely. I think it’s difficult to communicate scale of financial situation we’re facing. Labour are being disingenuous by suggesting that we can cut more slowly and it could all be a lot easier but the reality is that they were planning massive cuts too – they just didn’t set out where they would fall. All parties knew they’ve have to tackle the deficit – there’s a bit of argument about how far and how soon, but the difference isn’t as massive as the media write it up. Still trying to get across the scale of the problem is difficult because imagining a trillion pounds is difficult – people understand better when you say £40,000 for every household in the UK.

I asked Jo how she saw her role as new Scottish Deputy leader in the run up to the Holyrood elections.

Obviously the leadership of the Scottish party is with Tavish in Holyrood but we need to have good communication with the party in Westminster and that’s never been more important now that we’re in Government. Obviously there’s a key coordination role between the two parliamentary parties and also to make sure that the Party  members are kept  informed and understand what we’re doing and of course there’s a campaigning role as well with the Holyrood elections next year. The SNP has failed to deliver on so many things and the Labour Party aren’t exactly presenting an enticing alternative so there’s everything to play for and we have some very good messages around education, employment and getting the economy back on its feet to help people in Scotland live the life that they want to.

One of the more frivolous things I wanted to know was whether it felt weird calling Tories “honourable friend”. Jo laughed and then proved she was a lot more grown up than I am with her answer:

You have to remember that when you get elected as an MP the whole language of the House of Commons is pretty weird. Calling Lib Dems  “my honourable friend” is weird when in real life you call them Nick, or Sarah, or Lorely.  And so I suppose because it’s weird anyway to describe someone as the Honourable Member for wherever, it’s not such a big deal to say “my Honourable Friend”. And it’s quite funny because the other day a Labour Member got it wrong and referred to the Secretary of State, Vince, as a Rt Honurable Friend when he was on the other side of the House. It’s not uncommon for people on both sides of the House to say Honourable Friend when they mean someone on the other side because they are friends outside the Chamber. I always like it when that happens because I am quite friendly with MPs in other parties. There’s more camaraderie across party lines than you would pick up from watching PMQs.

Part 2 to follow.

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This entry was posted in News and Scotland.

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