The Ronseal of British politics – A storming speech from Jo

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I was “up in the gods” for Jo’s speech this afternoon in Bournemouth.

The first thing to say is that the speech seemed to me to be visually very powerful. Jo is a commanding, strong presence on stage. She stands centre stage, with no lectern or notes, barely glancing visibly at the distant autocues. Her posture and gestures are bold and decisive.

And her speech was bold and decisive.

In the round, I thought her speech was a barnstormer.

Thank goodness, she presented a refreshingly clear and robust alternative to the vacillation of Corbyn and the near-dictatorship of Johnson. Strategically what she is doing, and what she did in this speech, is canny, summed up by this line, which received one of the few intra-speech standing ovataions which I have witnessed during a leader’s speech (indeed there were chants of “Jo, Jo,Jo”):

Let me be clear. There is no limit to my ambition for our party. And today I am standing here as your candidate for Prime Minister.

To those of you with long memories this may seem uncannily like David Steel’s much-mocked: “Go back to your constituencies and prepare for government”, but I think it is the only sensible strategy for Jo and the Liberal Democrats.

The first task is clear. We must stop Brexit. And we are crystal clear: a Liberal Democrat majority government will revoke Article 50 on day one. Because there is no Brexit that will be good for our country.

There is no messing about here. Jo and the party cannot be accused of fence-sitting. It’s a Ronseal policy. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

We all know that commitment has never been Boris Johnson’s strong suit…

That line was brilliantly delivered. It was the first half of a sentence but Jo paused lengthily after “suit”, the audience caught up and Jo gave a knowing smile.

And Boris Johnson’s insults of choice are rather revealing. Big girl’s blouse, girly swot. But let me tell you conference, if he thinks being a woman is somehow a weakness. He’s about to find out: it is not.

Again there was great delivery for that passage. And, my goodness me, that final sentence was delivered with thundering power. – Another standing ovation with whoops and foot stomping.

I found Jo’s summary of today’s politics devastatingly astute:


If he had campaigned to Remain in 2016 with half of the energy he put into the 2017 election, we may have seen a different result. Then the day after the referendum, he said we should trigger Article 50 immediately. He whipped his MPs to vote for it. And even now, when faced with all the clear and obvious dangers that Brexit brings, Jeremy Corbyn still insists that if Labour win a General Election, they will negotiate their own Brexit deal to take us out of the EU.

Nigel Farage might be Brexit by name, but it is very clear that Jeremy Corbyn is Brexit by nature.

And there was this great bit of historical context, calling on famous Liberals who have trail-blazed in the past:

It was Gladstone’s minister W. E. Forster who asked why any child should miss out on education, and made parents send their children to school. It was David Lloyd George who asked why the most vulnerable in society are left to fend for themselves, and paved the way for the welfare state. It was Beveridge who asked why anyone should have to pay for healthcare, and masterminded our beloved NHS. It was Paddy Ashdown who asked whether it is inevitable that modern economies destroy the natural environment, and put the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of green thinking.

Liberal Democrats, we come from a long line of innovators.

Jo devoted a large part of her speech to measurement of the country’s success by well-being as opposed to GDP. With respect to that, her reference to Jacinda Ardern was very smart, particularly as it points people to a model young female Prime Minister:

When it comes to GDP, Bobby Kennedy was spot on fifty years ago. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. That’s why a Liberal Democrat government will put the wellbeing of people and our planet at the heart of what we do. And this Autumn, we will set out our own wellbeing budget. Others around the world are doing this already. Take Jacinda Ardern. Thanks to her, the New Zealand government set out the world’s first wellbeing budget.

Based on her performances to date as leader, I was expecting a cracking speech from Jo, and we got a cracking speech.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Barker 17th Sep '19 - 7:58pm

    So, can we do it ?
    I estimate our Vote in Local Byelections as being around 24%, around 6% up on our (excellent) performance 4 Months ago.
    The latest Polling on Voters approval of Jo puts her on 26%, up 15% on 3 Months ago & ahead of Corbyn.
    However, our National Voting Intention Polling has been stable around 18/19% for 3 Months now. That is not surprising, VI Polls are a lagging indicator, they dont tell us much about Election Results until the last few Weeks before Polling Day, the various measures of Leadership are much better predictors.
    On all the measures of Leadership Corbyn has broken records of unpopularity, Labour Voters are sticking with them because they dont yet believe that they have an alternative. Once we get into an Election Campaign that could change very quickly.
    If we can change the Election “Question” to Boris or Jo then no-one knows what the answer will be.

  • John Marriott 17th Sep '19 - 8:37pm

    Yes, the Lib Dem brand does exactly what it says on the tin! Going for revocation period is a brave move. Some might argue that it makes the party a hostage to fortune. What happens if a Deal is scraped together by the end of October or, failing that, perhaps the end of January before a General Election comes about?

    It’s a high risk strategy; but hey, why not go for broke? I just hope that it doesn’t end in tears.

  • Paul Barker is surely accurate with his figures. But I am am probably not the only by-election nerd who is genuinely shocked by real votes for Labour in local elections. Last Thursday in five wards (OK not Labour’s best territories) the official opposition party could not get into double figures percentage-wise anywhere. Of course Shetland is atypical but in the Holyrood by-election the Labour and Conservative combined vote was just under 5%. For all sorts of reasons these are very strange times in British politics and everything has to be up for grabs.

  • William Wallace 17th Sep '19 - 10:00pm

    A comment for those who missed Bournemouth, or only saw extracts on TV. The atmosphere was very good, welcoming and friendly – as remarked to me by several of the 900 ‘first time’ delegates. That matters: conferences (and glee clubs) socialise new recruits into the party as a liberal family. At times our small staff were almost swamped; 800 journalists turned up, many more than expected. I saw one well-known journalist singing his heart out for the Land song – maybe we were socialising him a little as well?

  • I don’t know if Jo is really the leader the Liberal Democrats deserve; but, at this particular time, she is the leader we undoubtedly need.

  • William Fowler 18th Sep '19 - 7:39am

    TV coverage on Revoke was very good but not much coverage of other policies, seemed a lot of self-congratulation at recent successes which is not going to inspire voters. Probably a hardcore of remainers that max out at thirty percent, which leaves maybe forty percent who would let other policies override their views on Brexit – so big tax bribes from Boris, or freebies from Labour will sway that segment, so some juicy stuff from LibDems will be needed – moving burden of tax from individuals to corporate world would be a good starting point.

  • Yeovil Yokel 18th Sep '19 - 7:50am

    I overheard an interview at about 07:15 on the Today programme between the BBC’s Frank Gardner and (I think) the Saudi Ambassador in London in which they were discussing the West’s response to the recent drone attacks on Saudi oil processing facilities – the Ambassador talked about how his government would deal with whoever was Prime Minister in the UK, whether it be “Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, or Jo Swinson.” So, foreign governments are sitting up and noticing the changing political landscape in the UK.

  • Yeovil Yokel 18th Sep '19 - 9:59am

    “…..I was expecting a cracking speech from Jo, and we got a cracking speech”. With apologies to the late, great, Peter Sallis: “Cracking speech, Gromit!”

  • The Saudis are hardly going to be comfortable having to work with Jo Swinson!

  • Good to see the reaction to Jo’s speech as LibDems up to 23%, 2% ahead of Labour. This after Guardian columnists (Toynbee & Jones) tried to portray the LibDem position as extreme and unpopular and that it would give oxygen to Labour.

    I wrote to the Political section of the Guardian complaining about how LibDem policies were continually misrepresented and that quality journalism was being replaced by campaigning for Corbyn. In this case another staff piece had said that Jo’s position was not to want a second referendum and that she was not serious.

    Another poll shows the populous supporting revoking of 50 by 43% to 38%. Brexit is not the will of the people. The people have changed minds and are allowed to do this in a democracy

  • Peter Hirst 21st Sep '19 - 6:55pm

    How many seats is the Party targeting? I’ve read above 100 as possible somewhere. We need to get 150 to make it a real change that will not easily be reversed. Let’s hope someone is thinking big.

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