Jo Swinson speech following General Election

This winter election has been dark in more ways than one.

Leaders evading scrutiny, whether it was Corbyn ducking phone-ins or Johnson hiding in a fridge.

Voters feeling forced to choose the least worst option, squeezing out positivity.

Even before it started, we saw an exodus of MPs, especially women, ground down by abuse, intimidation and threats.

I’m proud that the Liberal Democrats provided a welcoming home for those abandoned by their parties, those who were hounded out, like Luciana Berger.

sadly the results have seen us lose Luciana from Parliament and many other talented MPs such as Tom Brake, Sam Gyimah, Chuka Umunna, Jane Dodds. I’m so sorry I couldn’t get them re-elected.

Racism is infecting our politics, terrifyingly, it has now become mainstream.

A Labour Party mired in anti-Semitism, complaints unresolved, the Jewish community fearful. It took Labour months to expel a member who wrote about gassing Jews. When Alastair Campbell voted Lib Dem, they kicked him out in just 2 days.

Brexit party representatives filmed talking about being ‘outbred’ by Muslims and revelling in a story about plans to encase a pig’s head in concrete in the foundations of a mosque. Watching that footage, I felt sick. Yet this is the party that has handed Boris Johnson the keys to number 10.

The Conservatives are failing on Islamophobia, and the Prime Minister willingly received the endorsement of Tommy Robinson, Britain’s biggest racist.

Many people will look at the last few weeks, at these results and be filled with dread about the future of our country.

I understand. I am worried too.

This goes beyond our future relationship with the European Union. It is about our relationships with one another in the United Kingdom.

Do we value every individual for who they are? Are we an open, welcoming, inclusive society?

I still believe we are, at heart, or at the very least that we can be.

But there are many forces that seek to divide us, to allow resentment and fear to fester.

And if we want to be that open-minded, warm-hearted society, we need to stand up, join together, and fight for it.

I’m proud in this election to have fought for what we – and millions of people – believe is the best future for our country: remaining in the European Union.

When 19 Labour MPs helped pass Johnson’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons, it was clear we had to act. We forced Johnson to request an extension to Article 50, but without Labour’s support, couldn’t assemble a majority for a People’s Vote, leaving a General Election as the only chance to remain in the EU.

So I did not shirk the debates and the phone-ins, I turned up to the interviews, and I stood up proudly for our beliefs. I’m proud that Liberal Democrats have been the unapologetic voice of Remain in this election, giving people the chance to choose to stop Brexit.

Obviously it hasn’t worked. And I, like you, am devastated about that. But I don’t regret trying.

Trying everything. Because the prize was to save our future, our children’s future, in Europe, where we can work together to tackle the climate emergency, trade freely to boost our living standards, and be a strong beacon for human rights around the world.

We have been true to ourselves, and true to our liberal values.

And as your leader I have been true to myself, too.

As a Scot, a Brit, a European.

As a liberal, a humanist, a feminist.

As a daughter, sister, wife, and a mum to two small kids.

Being myself, whether people attacked my vision or my voice, my ideas or my earrings.

One of the realities of smashing glass ceilings, is that a lot of broken glass comes down on your head.

proud to have been the first woman to lead the Liberal Democrats, and even more proud that I know I won’t be the last.

In Sarah, Wera, Layla and Christine we have 4 fantastic and experienced women MPs. In Daisy, Munira and Wendy we have exciting new talent. They will take the Commons by storm, I’m just sad I won’t be with them.

As I’ve travelled the country during this campaign, I have loved meeting so many Lib Dem members and activists. The teams really have been extraordinary, with our party at our highest membership numbers in our history.

You have shone with optimism, courage and determination. Thank you all for everything you have done.

And I’d like to say a special thank you to my staff, both in my leader’s office and in my constituency. You are all amazing.

Together, we have refused to simply be spectators, sitting on the sidelines while our country heads down a damaging path, of which Brexit is only the first step.

Our country is in the grip of populism, with nationalism resurgent in all its forms.

It is easy to despair. But I say let’s foster hope instead.

In Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark, she quotes Vaclav Havel:

The kind of hope I often think about, I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world…. Hope in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

She then goes on to say:

Hope is not a door, but a sense that there might be a door at some point, some way out of the problems of the present moment even before that way is found or followed.

There will be a door, there will be a way out of this nationalist surge, and we have to work together to find it.

It’s a huge job to be done, the answer is that we step up, we organise, we join together. Though I won’t be your leader, I will be walking alongside you.

We will reflect, regroup and refresh. We must continue to grow our liberal movement, both attracting Lib Dem members, and by reaching out to work with those who share our values, wherever they are.

All of us who share an alternative vision for society have a responsibility to learn from this result, and find new answers.

Next week is the shortest day.

We will see more light in the future.

Join us for that journey.

Let’s explore the way together, with hope in our hearts.

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28 Comments

  • Alasdair Brooks 13th Dec '19 - 2:54pm

    Watching this broke my heart. She held it together giving the speech far better than I did watching it.

  • Sad to say this, but if the Tories and Labour were so bad, why did the LibDems not capitalise.

    What did they do wrong that people just felt they could not vote for them.

    My two main thoughts are :promising to revoke Art 50 without any referendum; and, stating that LibDems will not form a coalition with either the Tories or Labour. Rather a ridiculous standpoint for a party that has never won a majority in parliament.

  • I think Jo needs to realise that most of the millions who voted for the Tories, Labour, the Brexit Party and the SNP are decent caring people. So are their MP’s, they just differ from her on how to get the best for the people of this country. There is too much of this if your not a liberal then you must be nasty. She tried her best, but her voting record during the coalition years caught up with her – just like Corbyn’s history caught up with him. It’s a shame she lost her seat because given time I think she would have made a good leader. However, a new leader his now required and the pool of candidates is small. For god’s sake don’t rush to elect one, you have plenty of time. Don’t forget if there’s anything in a candidates history that’s bad (no matter how much they regret it) it will come out in a GE campaign. For me it would be Davy as leader and Olney as deputy.

  • Graham Jeffs 13th Dec '19 - 4:23pm

    I really am sick and tired of hearing about MPs or candidates because of their sex. I don’t care one way or the other – I just want the best people chosen as candidates and the best people to then become MPs.

    Our focus should be on ensuring that the pool of candidates is wide. Who then gets selected should then be down to their merits as perceived by individual constituencies – not their sex.

  • Barry Lofty 13th Dec '19 - 4:25pm

    A very good speech Jo, hope you can at least enjoy a well earned rest with your family.
    I wonder if the message planted in the minds of prospective Lib Dem voters that a vote for us would allow the dreaded Corbyn into No10 and a totally undemocratic FPTP voting system had any part in the result ?

  • A great campaign, and a great leader; The message was good, the delivery was even better. Really sorry to see you go Jo, thank you.

  • Martin Frost 13th Dec '19 - 4:57pm

    After 3 disasterous general election results in a row, I think that the Party needs to decide whether it is a centrist or a centre-left party. Despite Brexit, the Tory Remain vote was solidly behind Boris Johnson and this is never going to change, so stop trying to cultivate this group. You need genuine converts.

    I hope the Corbynistas are ousted from Labour but I am not in favour of nebulous centrism either. I thought it was deplorable that Lib Dem candidates especially Labour defectors chose to target the seats of moderate Labour MPs. They did not deserve to win.

    Charles Kennedy, despite his personal problems, was the best leader the party ever had. I want to see a genuine progressive alliance. that reaches out beyond tribal loyalties. It is time to change.

  • You’re big problem is you think identity politics are liberal, when they are the very opposite of liberal. Identity politics seeks to restrict free speech, introduce quotas, divide people by race, gender and religion. Identity politics has brought us profoundly illiberal things like the no the platform movement.

    Being liberal mean defending the rights of the individual, defending free speech and defending the right of people to live their lives without interference. If that isn’t what you stand for anymore, best remove liberal from Liberal Democrats.

  • Ben Vain: A great campaign, and a great leader; The message was good, the delivery was even better.
    Really? After such a tanking?
    I won’t be sorry to see her go.

  • David Becket 13th Dec '19 - 5:45pm

    @malc
    Not Davey as Leader. History, History, History

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Dec '19 - 6:10pm

    @Dj Pocock
    What’s your personal definition of working class please? I ask because it could include most of the working population.

    “What message to working class blokes is it that it is a good thing over half of our pitiful amount of MPs are women.”

    What sort of message was it to women – who make up slightly over half of the UK population – in those times when the bulk of LibDem MPs (or even all of them after the 2015 general election) were male?

  • I agree with David Becket – I admire Ed Davey (voted for him as Leader), but we need a fresh start.

  • Rabia Debbie 13th Dec '19 - 6:28pm

    Thank you to Jo Swinson for being a clear voice for remain
    we will miss you

  • I thought Jo did really well. Was she let down? Too much time spent campaigning for the rest of us and not enough locally? She didn’t deserve to lose her seat.

  • David Evans 13th Dec '19 - 7:11pm

    I’m sorry but the chance to “take the commons by storm” had largely gone over the hills and far away by November 2010 and the one chance we had to rebuild our base more quickly went in this election.

    We are a small party with few MPs which chose to sacrifice its core vote in 2010 (but most of us weren’t told at the time). The prime directive now is personal survival for every one of our MPs, so that there is a party for the next generation of Lib Dems to build around, followed by decades of hard work to maybe get back to where we were in 2005. Five years later electoral arithmetic meant we could give our MPs a chance to show the British people what they could do in government.

    That is what we must aim to achieve, but not based on dreams and hubris, but on learning from those who did it and not from those who squandered it.

  • Arnold Kiel 13th Dec '19 - 9:44pm

    Brexit is not the transformational opportunity we saw in it. It is merely a symptom of insecure times. Insecure people look for authority or collectivism, the two polar opposites of liberalism. Few have the courage to propose or assume expanded freedom if the risks are perceived high. Liberalism is currently a niche-offering, the national LibDem vote-share rather high by current standards. Add FPTP and failed tactical voting, and 11 seats become explicable. I don’t think very consequential strategic errors were made, just expectations were inflated.

  • Yousuf Farah 13th Dec '19 - 11:46pm

    I think there was a poll in roughly the middle of the campaign that showed that the more people saw her, the more they disliked her. In hindsight perhaps that was true. It may not just have been all about revoke and being all about Brexit, it could have partly been about her, that people may not have liked what they saw. Stuff like making her take part in every TV debate and making the campaign into a presidential one; centred all around her: were just ludicrous decisions in hindsight.

    But she was inexperienced, and near the end of the campaign she was starting to get things right, and looking more like a leader. If she had kept her seat, in time she would’ve been a good, maybe even a great leader. Ah but the danger was always having a seat in Scotland, where the public is changeable, parochial and nationalistic.

  • Andrew Daer 14th Dec '19 - 6:27am

    FPTP and the absurdity of tactical voting (often involving having to second-guess what other voters were guessing about what other people are going to do) created an election far removed from true democracy. Remain voters won the contest, but Johnson got a thumping majority to carry out the ‘will of the people’. No shame or blame should attach to Jo, and on the contrary, we should all be proud of the part she played. And like the first speaker in this string, I found her brave, inspiring and selfless speech hard to watch.

  • Roger Billins 14th Dec '19 - 9:27am

    I am one of the LDV bloggers who are in the class of long time members and grumpy old men-the rest of you know who are you. I joined in 74, stood for Parliament in 83 and along with Flick Rea, was elected to Camden Council in 86. I campaigned this time in Stratford where we fought a great ground war with an excellent candidate
    I have seen it all before, every mistake in the book including Roy Jenkins as putative P.M in 83 and Charlie Kennedy’s drunken TV interview in 05 but this one was the worst yet.
    It started with throwing away the opportunity of taking the Norway option which would have kept all the economic benefits of the EU, to electing an inexperienced leader in a marginal seat, and then pretending she could be P.M. The final nail in the coffin was the idiotic revoke policy. We have thrown away the huge benefits of the council and Euro elections and the enthusiasm of our activists. Big questions have to be asked and one of them is do we want to be a party rooted in North Cornwall or Esher and Walton ?

  • I’d like to echo the many comments on here lamenting the lunge towards identity politics that the Liberal Democrats have taken over the past decade.

    It’s totally divisive, it’s contemptuous to individuality, it puts off “moderate middle” people, and it simply is not liberal no matter how hard its purveyors try and sell it as something good.

  • Sopwith Morley 14th Dec '19 - 11:04am

    “Brexit is not the transformational opportunity we saw in it. It is merely a symptom of insecure times. ”

    Arnold, You appear to have learnt nothing from the events of the last few days.

    Your exaggerated rhetoric over recent months clearly demonstrated the views of somebody who is neither embedded in the British electorate, or perhaps more importantly has little or no understanding of the British political psyche. The decision on Thursday from across the political spectrum was specifically aimed at those like you who think they have a superior intellect, and that their view holds more merit..

    The answer from all social groups, and from all income groups, was an informed message not from the insecure, but from the incandescent. The message was, we the electorate decide what happens, and you the politicians will do as you are told otherwise you are on your bike.
    Clear and unequivocal, but I imagine a message that will soon be forgotten by the usual suspects.

  • I am very sorry for Jo at a personal level but I have a number of criticisms about her leadership. However, she has paid dearly and it serves no purpose to list them here.

    However, the party performed extremely badly given the abysmal quality of the Labour Party, the fact that Remain supporters account for 48% of the electorate and the only other significant party is 100% devoted to Leave. It essential to understand why the electorate dismisses the LDs so decisively.

    I have been very impressed by a number of the comments shown above. I realise that many party members are very proud of their values and the stand they take on particular subjects. But they need to realise that some of the focus is on passions which are not shared by the public. Worse than that, they are intensely disliked by the public to the extent that they lose votes and render the party unelectable.

    I suspect that some of these discussions could be quite painful but there has to be a conscious compromise between party ideals and acceptability to the voters you wish to attract.

  • Arnold Kiel 14th Dec '19 - 6:09pm

    Sopwith Morley,

    I have indeed an outsider’s perspective on the “British political psyche”, which, I must say, seems to be poorly understood also by quite a few insiders. The electorate clearly decides, but, in the case of Brexit, neither on a relevant question (one nobody asked 2015), nor in its own interest. All that self-harm just to send a message? To people who won’t help them? Hardly an “informed” one. Voters may be also incandescent, but insecurity is the root cause. Wait until they get their Brexit, and the disappearance of the modest post-Thatcher re-industrialisation.

  • @Arnold Kiel – You clearly do not understand Brexit motivation and construct your own imagined scenario.

    Germany and France need the EU for obvious reasons. A number of the others are economic satellites to these countries and automatically follow. All the rest are economic minnows, there as net recipients of EU largesse. (They are due for a shock).

    The UK is a major world influence and economy with none of the baggage of France or Germany. Membership of a trading bloc was used by our politicians to entice covertly the country into a political entity with ambitions to be a European state.

    Cameron offered the UK the first opportunity to express a view on this federal future and the majority of voters decided to take back control and reject the EU project.

    That is not a tale of insecurity but one of confidence. It is clear that leaving the EU faces tough negotiations, initial hardship and the long process of negotiating relationships with the EU and external nations. All of this could take a decade or two before the benefits kick in. But we will be a free nation making our own decisions. Our future prosperity will be in our own hands. Once again, we shall be a proud independent nation. That is a huge motivator.

    Please tell me, what motivates members of the Euro?

  • John Littler 30th Dec '19 - 1:51pm

    Jo did a beautiful speech, but I am not aware that the BBC ran it at all. I think it was on Sky News. Instead they repeatedly ran a video of Nicola Sturgeon whooping it up on seeing a recording of the result, where the overwhelming issue was the ending of a career by a promising young female MP, ex Minister and party leader. Sturgeon might say it was about one of her own nationalists being elected, but this was not organised for any of the other SNP winning candidates and I can’t help but consider this has added to the nastification of UK politics.
    This was unbecoming of our national broadcaster and especially of the so called “first minister of Scotland”, since Politicians are meant to show dignity and contrition around such events. Any trace of sympathy I had towards these secessionists in setting up their tiny kingdom has left the building.

  • John Littler 30th Dec '19 - 2:11pm

    If anyone had asked me two months ago, who I thought ought to take over LibDem leadership after Jo Swinson, I would have said the honourable and sparky member for Oxford East & Abingdon, Layla Moran, but two aspects have become apparent.

    1) we need a safe pair of hands and a heavy hitter even if this person is a transitional figure and a Woman leader is no longer the imperative it might have been two years ago;

    2) losing a party leader due to a relatively small majority was not a good look and should be avoided wherever possible, as party leaders will be campaigning around the country, while the dominant major party in that region will throw everything they possibly can at that seat to get a headline scalp for a media defining moment, plus an opposition leadership decapitation

    The downside of choosing Ed Davey would be his association with the coalition cuts, which are played selectively and endlessly by Labour and to some extent by the Greens and Nationalists.

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