Lessons must be learned from the Jo Swinson speculation

jo swinson by paul walterOn Thursday, George Eaton of the New Statesman blogged that Jo Swinson was about to replace Ed Davey in the forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle.

Today, the Guardian’s Nick Watt says that this is not the case and Jo is expected to become Secretary of State for Scotland in September after the independence referendum.

Nick Clegg, acutely conscious that the five Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers are all men, is expected to promote the business minister Jo Swinson to the cabinet. But she is expected to succeed Alistair Carmichael as Scotland secretary after September’s independence referendum in September if, as expected, the pro-Union side prevails. Carmichael would be praised for his role in the victory as Swinson took charge on introducing greater devolution to the Scottish parliament.

George Eaton accepts that this is the case. In an article this morning he said:

It is thought that this move will increase her chances of holding her marginal seat of East Dunbartonshire (majority: 2,184) against Labour. Carmichael, who replaced Michael Moore in the role in last year’s reshuffle, may be offered a general election campaign post in return.

It’s fair to say that I’ve felt that Jo is long overdue promotion to the Cabinet. I do feel, though, that the way that this has been handled by whoever has been briefing the press is at best unfortunate. George Eaton and Nick Watt haven’t, I’m sure, just made this stuff up. Somebody influential has told them something. You would assume that that somebody influential was within the Westminster Bubble. Much as I love the party press office, I doubt that they would be told who’s being reshuffled 3 days out.

On this, discretion would have been the better course. As it stands, we’ve had Ed Davey apparently upset before the non-event and now a big question mark is hanging over Alistair Carmichael. I presume that whoever has been encouraging the press to think along those lines hasn’t got the first clue about the effect that this sort of speculation might have on the independence referendum. It may not change any votes, but the Yes campaign plays up any possible uncertainty. As it is, they are trying to imply that a No vote would result in everything from no more devolution ever to the abolition of the Barnett Formula despite all three pro UK parties guaranteeing that there would be more powers. Alistair has been saying that he would try to broker a consensus following a no vote and while we know that  if he weren’t there any other Liberal Democrat in the job would do exactly the same thing, we also know that the Yes campaign will do all it can to exploit these rumours. It’s just something that was completely avoidable and that we could have done without.

Even just on a human level, it’s just not fair to feed stuff to journalists that may not have been discussed with the people involved. It’s inept and unprofessional. There’s a process to be gone through. These people are actually human beings with feelings and any changes to their jobs should be completed in a respectful manner, not on the pages of blogs.

I would hope that lessons will be learned in the Liberal Democrat part of Whitehall. If something as simple as this can be needlessly fluffed, it doesn’t bode well for the really difficult stuff we have ahead of us.

* 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.


  • A Social Liberal 12th Jul '14 - 2:29pm

    It must be galling to be considered for a post simply because of your gender. Don’t get me wrong, Swinson is good enough for a post on her own merit (and has been for the last four years). But to get it just because Clegg needs a woman on the front bench cannot be good for her morale.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '14 - 2:42pm

    I agree that the way to decide government positions isn’t to do anonymous briefings and see what the reaction is, as though it is some sort of pantomime.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '14 - 2:47pm

    Gee, politics is tough, I’m sure Ed and Jo and whoever have gotten used to that by now. All publicity is good publicity, and every little speculation helps.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '14 - 2:54pm

    By the way, I think making Jo Scottish secretary could be a good move. It’s not making a judgement on Michael, Jo is from Scotland and I am sure would be good. I just thought the case to make her energy secretary in place of Ed Davey was weak.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '14 - 3:05pm

    I’m rubbish today, I mean Alistair Carmichael, not Michael! After the Scottish Ref he could change roles. However, I’ll refer back to my first point and say these things should be discussed in private or directly to the party, not briefed to journalists!

  • Frank Booth 12th Jul '14 - 3:25pm

    I can’t get the odds right now but I’d have thought the chances of Jo Swinson holding her seat are close to zero. She might as well make the most of the time she has got left in Parliament.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '14 - 4:11pm

    More news announced in the New Statesman. Apparently Davey is regarded as a “poor media performer” – what a joke!

    Jo Swinson to become Scottish secretary, I’m happy about that, but I don’t know about this nonsense about Davey being a poor media performer.


  • Eddie Sammon 12th Jul '14 - 4:22pm

    Oh your article mentions my link, it just didn’t include it. Well anyway, it’s not right at all. The job of energy secretary shouldn’t be decided based on who is the best media performer and I think Ed Davey has been a good one anyway. I’m shocked that it was even considered.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 12th Jul '14 - 4:42pm

    There are certainly worse media performers in the ranks of our ministers.

  • Richard Dean 12th Jul '14 - 4:51pm

    Effective communication with the electorate is an essential part of democracy, so of course media performance is highly relevant. Ed Davey doesn’t seem to me a bad performer at all, he comes across as very professional. Cable is by far the worst performer in my opinion, closely followed by Clegg.

  • David Allen 12th Jul '14 - 5:08pm

    It all looks a bit me-too-ish:


    Promoting women because they’re women is not good for women.

  • paul barker 12th Jul '14 - 5:52pm

    Why are we assuming that The New Statesman wouldnt just invent stuff to cause trouble ?

  • Jonathan Pile 12th Jul '14 - 6:39pm

    A reshuffle is the chance for a leader to assert their authority and to strengthen the team supporting them. By these unattributed briefings Clegg has destabilised his Energy Secretary Ed davey, cast doubt on Vince Cable – as continuing in his role and now turned Alistair Carmichael as a lame duck Scottish Secretary on the eve of referendum. Jo Swinson who ought to be in the Cabinet on merit is being cast as a token quota woman. All so badly handled. Time to reshuffle the leader? The gaffes keep coming don’t they?

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Jul '14 - 8:37pm

    Paul Walter 12th Jul ’14 – 7:32pm in reply to Jonathan Pile 12th Jul ’14 – 6:39pm

    “Jonathan, even if you write it another 999 times to add to the xxx times you have already written similar here, it’s still not going to happen.”

    Paul, in my view you are probably are right in that it not going to happen but this does not mean that Jonathan and the rest of us are wrong in our fear regarding the outcome of this 🙁

    Regarding Ed Davey, I do not criticise his media performance, merely the minor detail that he has failed to deliver a distinctive Lib Dem outcome in one of our lead Ministries. This may of course be due to a lack of support at the Quad table but no amount of media performance can hide that fact that the Tories have made mince meat of us regarding key long-standing commitments on nuclear power and renewables.

  • “The Tories have made mince meat of us regarding long-standing commitments on nuclear power and renewables”

    As to nuclear power, it is proper to note that there has in fact been a definite shift of opinion in favour of nuclear power within our own party, and that is something to take account of, whatever views on nuclear power the Tories may happen to hold.

    As to renewables, most of us feel that Ed Davey has done extremely well in putting the case for green energy and in
    defending his corner against Tory climate change sceptics.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Jul '14 - 10:21pm

    @Hugh p 12th Jul ’14 – 9:18pm

    “As to nuclear power, it is proper to note that there has in fact been a definite shift of opinion in favour of nuclear power within our own party”.

    I would agree there has been some shift (under significant Davey/leadership pressure) but that this included such restrictions such as new nuclear not being subsidised.

    At the time the BBC reported “Liberal Democrats have voted to support the building of a new generation of nuclear power plants – a policy U-turn which marks an important victory for the Party’s leadership. Party members at the Glasgow conference voted 230 to 183 to support nuclear power in “limited” circumstances.” … so what did Davey do … massively subsidise it.

    I quote Dr Paul Dorfman, from the Energy Institute at University College London, “what it equates to actually is a subsidy and the coalition said they would never subsidise nuclear”. He added: “It is essentially a subsidy of between what we calculate to be £800m to £1bn a year that the UK taxpayer and energy consumer will be putting into the deep pockets of Chinese and French corporations, which are essentially their governments.”

    Regarding your renewables comment: “most of us feel …”

    Please could you cite the evidence for this ‘feeling’?

  • Matt (Bristol) 13th Jul '14 - 12:25am

    Andrew Page:
    “Is this really the “grown up politics” Clegg used to claim to aspire to?”

    Well, it’s about as grown-up as this:

    We’re all in this together, unfortunately – like religious zealots, those who aspire to change culture often fail to realise how much the culture is shaping them.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '14 - 1:02am

    We need to be weary of people giving more power to women in the front office by giving them less power in the back office. Harriet Harman alluded to it the other day and I think it is happening. There is no way that all these power hungry men have suddenly become feminists.

    I won’t agree with radical feminists on the importance of positive discrimination, but to do it just for show whilst undermining them at the same time is the worst of both worlds because it is dishonest.

    I’m not offering much of an opinion on the Scottish Secretary position, besides basic support, but the Energy Secretary idea has blown the lid off how little certain people value technical knowledge and how much they think being in the cabinet is basically a PR exercise.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '14 - 1:47am

    By the way, what Harriet said was along the lines of “it’s like the Thick of It, some of the civil servants have more power than the junior ministers and they are nearly all men”.

    Last time I read Cameron’s manifesto team was made up of 6 white men, five of them went to Eton and the other went to St Pauls, so the idea he is now some sort of diversity champion is hard to believe and we should call him out on it, not try to ape it.

  • Adam Robertson 13th Jul '14 - 3:44am

    I think Nick has got a good team around him, although I am concerned about having Danny Alexander as Treasury Spokesperson for the Election, then Vince Cable. I think Cable has got more credibility than Alexander on this. Although, I confess, I am more of a monetarist than a Keynesian.

    On Jo Swinson, I think she is a capable Cabinet performer on her own right. However, I think she should focus on her electorate, as her seat will be tough to defend. I am surprised that she is still going to fight a seat in Scotland, I thought she might have fought Bath or somewhere closer to Duncan Hames, her husband. That would have been logically for their new family. Perhaps, I’m too conventional.

    On the ‘new wave found of feminism’, I think Britain has a peculiar relationship with it, in terms of politics. I think Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, all pay lip service to it. I know I am a man, so I can’t be the best expert on this, but I think they do this for window dressing. The best example of proper feminist values within a representative system, is the Welsh Assembly, especially during 1999 and 2003, when 50% of members were women. A sisterhood emerged.

    To be fair, Tony Blair did make some good reforms, to the House of Commons, to make it more female and family friendly. Although, at the cost, of losing the dramatic impetus, that Parliament can have with late night sittings.

  • So if Carmichael delivers the historic result to keep the Union together he gets sacked as a reward??? By a bunch of Englishmen to boot. Ineptitude heaped on ineptitude.

  • peter tyzack 13th Jul '14 - 8:44am

    Paul Barker is right.. stuff dreamt up by New Statesman.. and/or the Tory spin machine, knowing that it would cause ripples. Why are some LibDems so gullible? …( and predictably, the usual self proclaimed ‘democrats’ take the opportunity to slag-off the leader.)

  • I agree wholeheartedly. I’m sure we each have our own opinions on who should be promoted and I’ve shared mine in the past but don’t imagine it would influence the outcome any one bit. Reshuffle stories are basically tittle-tattle exchanges between journalists with press officers/spokesmen or those in the know sometimes present or feeding rumours. Certainly, any discussions would have been the “off-the-record” ones.

    I’m not even sure this would be a press officer in the party who seems to want to open his or her gob, but just someone who you would think is “in the know”. I think it all comes across as undisciplined. Even for the Tory candidates concerned, all it does is give them something to put in their local rag. However, it just makes them look more out of touch rather than be rewarded for their talent/efforts. No-one wins except shoddy journalists.

  • Paul Walter,

    ” “Time to reshuffle the leader? ”
    Jonathan, even if you write it another 999 times ….”

    But what Jonathan posted was all new. The Clegg gaffes he described were all last week’s gaffes, and thus hadn’t been discussed before. Next week I suppose we will discover next week’s gaffes….

    … and loyalists will say there is nothing to see here, while for the rest of us, the worm will eventually turn!

  • David Pollard 13th Jul '14 - 12:58pm

    Carmichael should be back as chief whip ASAP!

  • David Pollard 13th Jul '14 - 1:02pm

    Eddie Salmon put his finger on it. The country is run by public school boys. It will be interesting to find out how many of the new women appointed (if they are) are public school girls or related to people with titles.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jul '14 - 1:29pm

    Lol, thanks David.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Jul '14 - 1:54pm

    peter tyzack 13th Jul ’14 – 8:44am

    “Paul Barker is right.. stuff dreamt up by New Statesman.. and/or the Tory spin machine, knowing that it would cause ripples. Why are some LibDems so gullible? …( and predictably, the usual self proclaimed ‘democrats’ take the opportunity to slag-off the {{Dear}} leader.)”

    As a ‘usual suspect’, I have fallen foul of posting rules on several occasions recently. Now may be wrong but it seems to me that your referring to centre-left Party Loyalists as “the usual self proclaimed ‘democrats’ “, is bordering on being a collective ‘ad hominem’ comment. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Jul '14 - 2:15pm

    peter tyzack 13th Jul ’14 – 8:44am

    Additionally, concerning “Why are some LibDems so gullible? “; perhaps if Newsmoggie hadn’t repeated the speculation on LDV, the usual suspects (and presumably those whose views you do not wish to pigeon hole in this way?) might not have commented on it!

    I should be most interested in hearing Newsmoggies comments regarding your suggestion as to their gullibility.

    I remain, Dear Sir yours etc. etc.

  • Tony Greaves 14th Jul '14 - 8:26pm

    The local litter bins will all be overflowing…

  • It is all just gossip about Jo Swinson. Yes, she’s been an uber-loyalist, yes she hasn’t made any dreadful faux pas. But I can’t believe Clegg is seriously considering rearranging deckchairs in September, a few months before the election. Appointing her at the fag end of a Parliament will rightly be seen as window dressing, unfortunately. It’s bad enough coming from the Tories, and they don’t get so badly critiqued for THEIR shortcomings (never underestimate the hypocrisy of the Tory press!). It may even be that all this is being put about by senior anti-Cleggites to highlight the all-maleness of Clegg’s Cabinet appointments. Everyone would be wise to take these rumours with a very large pinch of salt.

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