Jo Swinson: The Prime Minister this country really needs

This country is suffering because we have a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition who play up fear and division. Britain needs a leader who can cut through the noise and grab people in the heart, highlighting the best of us, not the worst. We need someone to inspire us to be for each other, not against each other. Jo Swinson is that leader.

She combines humour, candour and plain speaking to bring people in. She reaches well beyond the liberal democrat comfort zone of our party by connecting with people. The way she wrote about the birth of her son Gabriel for his first birthday in June was absolutely beautiful. Don’t click on that if you are at all troubled by descriptions of childbirth.

And, during the Summer, after Boris Johnson, the man who famously toured the country in a bus with a great big lie on the side,  revealed that he liked to paint model buses, there was this:

When you connect with people on that very human level, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say about the future of the planet, about what needs to happen to make our lives better.

Jo has an exceptional ability to communicate complicated messages in a way that means something to people. “Putting people and planet first” is practical and engaging.

And when did you last hear a politician talking about a loving country? We need more of that.

Open, collaborative and generous-spirited

Jo puts those values into practice in the way that she works.

I visited her in her Commons office just after she had become Nick Clegg’s PPS in 2011. As we chatted, she signed a huge pile of letters to every single MP from every single party inviting them to talk to her about things that concerned them, putting personal messages on some of them.

It’s that collaborative attitude that has helped her build relationships across Parliament to make progress on all sorts of things from abortion to shared parental leave to proxy voting for MPs.

And it’s that collaborative attitude that has made it easier for others to join with us to achieve our goal to stop Brexit. It’s getting the balance right – being open and making sure that we protect and preserve our distinctive liberal voice. She’s got that.

Ahead of the game

Jo has always been been way ahead of the game. She’s understood what is going to be important not just now but in the years to come. Her passionate advocacy of gender equality was not as mainstream then as it was now. She talked about body confidence, outlining the pervasive effect on young people of unrealistic media expectations of what constituted beauty. She took cosmetics giant L’Oreal to the Advertising Standards Authority and won.

A decade ago and more, she tackled Easter egg manufacturers over excess packaging before people were really taking plastics seriously.

Her leadership campaign vision of transforming the economy to put people and planet first is not new.  This, from her first Conference speech as a Minister in 2012 on the importance of making work more fulfilling:

I know what it’s like to have a job where you’re clock-watching, or feeling unfulfilled.

– I have worked in a fast-food restaurant where the cries of “how many bodies do we have on the tills?” made me realise I was less a valued member of staff and more a production machine.

– I have worked in the Disney store, where even for someone with my cheery disposition, the enforced perma-smile was too much to bear.

– And I have worked for a local radio station, where the great charity work we did at the grassroots was measured by the parent company solely in terms of positive column inches, which was so demoralising for the team.

Without a doubt, I know that I have been at my most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work. It’s only natural.

When employment has risen significantly but GDP has not, we do need to ask the question, are we doing all we can to unleash the potential of our most precious resource – our people?

She’s challenged the establishment from a young age – fighting for girls to be allowed to wear trousers at school and she’s carried that through. Both of her children have a precious “first’ that they won’t remember but will be able to cherish. Her first son was the first baby to be carried through the voting lobby by his Dad and her second son was the first baby to be taken into the Chamber.

Inspiring leader

It’s Saturday 30th April 2005.  A group of  Lib Dems gather in a house in Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow. A young Jo Swinson implores us to take 300 leaflets each,  both morning and afternoon. It was so important, she said, that these went out that day so we could get on to the final part of the campaign. We’d come such a long way, we couldn’t risk the progress we’d made. It was going to be so close. She acknowledged that it was going to be hard on us, but we needed to get it all done.

After a long campaign, we were already pretty knackered. But we did it. Because we could see in her an exceptional talent. Even then, we thought she could one day lead the party. And because we knew that whatever she asked of us, she expected even more of herself. The vision she had for the area, the fire and passion with which she communicated it and the relentless hard work she put in inspired us all.

Five days later, Jo  became the MP for East Dunbartonshire. It was a new seat. Never before had the towns of Bearsden and Milngavie been in the same seat so, although we had a strong local government base there, gaining a parliamentary seat had never been in our grasp.  Boundary changes gave us a shot at it but success was far from assured. Enter Jo, a 24 year old brought up in the area.

She put her life on hold for 18 months as she moved back home with her parents, worked part time in the mornings, delivered leaflets in the afternoon and went canvassing in the evening. She inspired hordes of her old LDYS colleagues to come north to help her.

At that time I was the Scottish Party’s Campaigns and Candidates Convener. I knew what was going on across all the seats. Jo would phone me up and tell me that she hadn’t done enough. I knew that she had done more than most others, including some sitting MPs, by some margin and it was having an impact.

About ten days before the election, I had been canvassing an estate in Milngavie with Jo’s Dad, Peter. You could just see the pride in his face as he saw the extent to which his daughter had achieved not only name recognition, but admiration and agreement from voters.

Peter sadly died last year. He and Jo were very close. She credits him with teaching her to ask questions and challenge the status quo.

Vision and vitality

My vote for the Liberal Democrats has never been in question, but when I cast my postal vote in about a month’s time, I will do so with enormous pride. It will be a vote that is totally positive. Jo’s vitality, wit, wisdom and instinctive ability to be ahead of the game make her the best person to ensure that we heal this broken country, stop Brexit and pull back from our self-destructive course.

I have been saying for years that we need a leader who can tell our story well and really tug on people’s heartstrings. We need to evoke those positive emotions of hope and optimism and generosity of spirit to combat the fear and rage being generated by both left and right. Jo already contrasts so well with the rage and contempt that we get from Corbyn and Johnson.

Jo has an instinctive ability to understand what is going to be important not just tomorrow or in six months, but in five, ten, thirty years.

Jo is the right Prime Minister for these challenging times. She has the vision and the vitality to take this country to a much brighter future and that’s why I would invite every progressive minded person to Join Jo, vote Lib Dem and help make this country better.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Martin 31st Oct '19 - 1:02pm

    “Prime Minister” ?

    Tell her, she’s dreaming! 🙂

  • Lovely piece

  • I’m sure that on a human level Jo Swinson does have all the personal qualities you have rehearsed, Caron. However, I would like to hear more than just Brexit from her .

    I would like to hear a positive response to tackling increasing inequality and poverty in this country… to get rid of the iniquitous bedroom tax (which imperils women undergoing domestic violence, the cruel sanctions regime and five week wait for Universal Credit, the iniquities of PIP, and the lack of provision and support for increasing numbers of the homeless.

    Liberalism ought to be about the human dignity of every citizen. All of the above
    undermine it.

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '19 - 4:29pm

    And can she keep her arms under control and stop waving them about so much like a modern day female version of Magnus Pyke*?

    *Younger LDV readers may need to resort to Wikipedia

  • Mick Taylor 31st Oct '19 - 4:35pm

    David Raw. Your aspiration is correct. Alas, unless we stop Brexit, we will get none of it. I am confident that our manifesto though its main focus will be on stopping Brexit will also mention many of the things that you hold dear.
    Since Jo will lead us through this election we do need to get behind her, including old codgers like you and me. We owe it to our children and grandchildren.

  • Mick Taylor 31st Oct '19 - 4:37pm

    Peter Martin. As Mandy Rice Davies would have said “he would say that wouldn’t he”.

  • As one old codger to two others (yes, John, you too), I would rather aspire than expire.

    Mick, she’s really got to speak up on poverty…..Brexit or no Brexit…. and if she doesn’t, Jeremy Corbyn certainly will. He did today and it went down well with his audience….

    As for the wonderful Dr Pyke, as a war baby I’ll always be grateful to him. As for the youngsters who have the temerity to tiptoe round this site… maybe this will help enlighten them on who he was, John…..

    Magnus Pyke – Wikipedia › wiki › Magnus_Pyke
    Magnus Alfred Pyke OBE FRSE FRIC (29 December 1908 – 19 October 1992)

  • John Marriott 31st Oct '19 - 6:18pm

    I see that Trump has now waded in on behalf of Johnson. How does that compare with Obama’s “back of the queue” for interference in another country’s affairs? I’m afraid that a UK adrift from the EU will be a sitting duck if Trump gets another four years.

  • @ John, I don’t think a Trump endorsement will do the Member for Uxbridge much good…. Let’s hope he does a bit more.




  • George Burn 31st Oct '19 - 9:10pm

    I am definitely becoming more and more convinced by Swinson. I did vote for her in the leadership election but still with some doubts. But seeing her in action I am more confident than ever that she was a great choice.

    I was especially impressed with her gutsy recent decision to get BoJo to accept a postponement of Brexit in exchange for a pre Christmas election. I realise the outcome of that election is uncertain, and it could still turn out badly for us, but Swinson and those around her saw that the Tory moderates were never going to arrive on the scene and get us the numbers for another referendum, and that Labour’s leadership would also never make the leap. Swinson didn’t have many cards to play but with impeccable timing she played what she had perfectly, ensuring no Brexit until after an election.

    A woman, and especially a young woman, will always be dismissed by many, who aren’t used to leaders taking this form. But Swinson is quality, no doubt about it.

  • Richard Underhill. 31st Oct '19 - 11:53pm

    Speaking in the Commons Jo Swinson said that St Albans is a beautiful constituency.
    She has visited it several times recently and expects to visit it again.

  • David Garlick 1st Nov '19 - 9:31am

    If Jo can transfer her obvious talent, drive, passion and enthusiasm into the manifesto then anything is possible

  • Richard Underhill. 1st Nov '19 - 10:10am

    Peter Martin 31st Oct ’19 – 1:02pm
    When Vince Cable was Lib Dem Leader he told a meeting in Eastbourne that
    “I am your candidate for Prime Minister”. Of course, that is the job.
    He also said that some people had commented on his age. He replied about Gladstone.
    Gladstone had got the support of MPs who wanted to abolish the Income Tax
    and of those who wanted to make it permanent, without deception.
    Vince Cable led the Lib Dems to a double victory in May 2019,
    over Tories and Labour AT THE SAME TIME.
    Gladstone was an ex-Tory. Vince Cable is ex-Labour. Jo Swinson is a Liberal.
    A conviction politician.

  • Richard Underhill. 1st Nov '19 - 10:13am

    John Marriott
    Trump faces impeachment, as did Nixon.

  • John Marriott 1st Nov '19 - 10:53am

    @Richard Underhill
    ‘Facing’ impeachment and getting convicted are two different things. Look what happened to Bill Clinton (you can forget about Andrew Jackson, if you want). I have no reason to believe that, if he is found innocent by the Senate, Trump won’t go on to win again, given whichever opponent the Democrats come up with.

    There’s a great deal of speculation around even at this early stage. We need some hard stats. Where is ‘Michael 1’ when you need him?

  • John Marriott 1st Nov '19 - 4:13pm

    Sorry, that should have been Andrew JOHNSON, not ‘Old Hickory’.

  • Richard Underhill. 1st Nov '19 - 4:35pm

    John Marriott 1st Nov ’19 – 10:53am
    Yes, I know, I have read books by both Clintons.
    She worked on the impeachment of Nixon, who resigned during his second term.
    She also wrote about Andrew Jackson.
    Bill agreed to be impeached, thinking that he would win quickly and could therefore get on with his job, but grounds were asserted which were not grounds for impeachment.
    Bill’s popularity rose with an improving economy and he completed his second term.
    BBC NEWS “Beyond 100 Days” explains that the House of Representatives starts the impeachment process and the Senate does the trial. Assuming the usual tribalism, possible Democrat gains in the Senate in 2020 would come too late for impeachment because the President will also have been elected, or not, at the same time.
    I prefer Senator Warren, irrespective of whether pollsters think she can beat Trump.

  • I’m constantly impressed by how forward thinking Jo is on many issues. Sometimes, like the party as a whole, this causes problems with those who struggle to keep up, and invariably ends up with someone else getting the credit for our ideas that they mocked, which can be frustrating, but also inspiring.

    Matt Forde did a really good, long interview with Jo just the other day, which covers a number of issues and gives good insight into her personality. Well worth a listen on Soundcloud, iTunes podcast or Spotify.

  • Richard Underhill. 3rd Nov '19 - 11:54am

    On the Andrew Marr Show (BBC1 3/11/19 09.00) Nigel Farage said that he will not be standing for election himself, but will travel the country to support 600 candidates. So we can expect lots of selfies. They are not standing in Northern Ireland’s 18 seats. England, Scotland and Wales have 632. In April-May 2019 he must have disappointed a lot of people who wanted to start political careers with a paid job as an MEP.
    Andrew Marr was too polite to ask whether standing again for the Commons was too risky, or whether he would have resigned his position in the European Parliament to prefer Westminster.
    Farage’s UKIP supporters had loyally said they wanted him to be Prime Minister.
    UKIP has since had several leaders, but the number of MEPs elected for UKIP in 2019, in a PR party list election, was zero. He did not say that if he had stood down as an MEP there would not have been a bye-election. He would have been replaced by who-ever was second on the Brexit list in the Southeast of England.
    This also means that he is not involved in the current row about tv debates. Boris J. and Jeremy C. are saying that this is all about who you want as Prime Minister. Voters may notice that the power of a PM depends largely on how many MPs support HIM OR HER. Electors cannot vote directly for a PM. Israel tried doing that but changed back. France has a directly elected executive President, but this weakens the power and importance of MPs and PMs.
    Farage has said that there should be a tv debate for England, another for Scotland and another for Wales, which may happen anyway. Although he dislikes Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement Nigel Farage did not mention Northern Ireland.

  • Richard Underhill. 7th Nov '19 - 9:56am

    3rd Nov ’19 – 11:54am Sinn Fein has announced some seats in which they will not stand against the DUP. This gives the non-violent nationalists of the SDLP a better chance and our friends in the Alliance Party the prospect of retaking East Belfast. Naomi Long was elected as an MP, defeating the then DUP leader. Trying to do two jobs was difficult, plus the travel.

  • Nonconformistradical 7th Nov '19 - 10:34am

    “Sinn Fein has announced some seats in which they will not stand against the DUP.”

    Since Lady Hermon has announced she isn’t standing again –
    unless her vote transfers mostly to a non-DUP unionist this might not help much based on the 2017 result where DUP came a comfortable 2nd

    But I’m pleased to see even Sinn Fein doing grown-up politics.

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