The most important thing Jo Swinson did this week

When Jo Swinson was asked on the Today programme if she had talked to Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman about the possibility of them leading a Government of National Unity, my first thought was “Do you know nothing about her?”

Jo does her homework. There is no way on earth she would have said that Corbyn didn’t have the support to become temporary PM if she wasn’t sure of the figures. When she said that Corbyn couldn’t command the support of the House of Commons it is because she had had the conversations and worked that out. When she said that people like Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman would be great choices to lead a Government of National Unity as they didn’t have any long term ambitions to do the job, of course she had spoken to them first.

Her constant refrain was about building a plan that worked, a plan that united those opposed to the destructive path our incompetent Prime Minister is trying to take us down.

And that’s important.

For two days, Jo dominated the news headlines. Actually, it was nearer three as the news that Sarah Wollaston had joined us came late on Wednesday.

Dominating the news headlines is news about the formation of a coherent plan to block no deal – and, if Jo has her way, to stop Brexit altogether. She was crystal clear that the aim of the Liberal Democrats is to remain in the EU and we would campaign to do so in any People’s Vote.

She looked an anxious nation in the eye and calmly and confidently told them that she, and others, potentially a majority of MPs, had their backs.

She talked about doing whatever it took to stop Brexit.

This all comes as the Sunday Times publishes details (£) of leaked government documents showing how a no deal Brexit would lead to the return of a hard border in Ireland, food, fuel and medicine shortages and massive queues at ports. It doesn’t need explaining how this will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Here’s what they have to say on medicines:

Any disruption that reduces, delays or stops the supply of medicines for UK veterinary use would reduce our ability to prevent and control disease outbreaks, with potential harm to animal health and welfare, the environment and wider food safety and availability, as well as, in the case of zoonotic diseases, posing a risk to human health. Industry stockpiling will not be able to match the 4-12 weeks’ stockpiling that took place in March 2019. Air freight capacity and the special import scheme are not a financially viable way to mitigate risks associated with veterinary medicine availability issues.

And on food:

Certain types of fresh food supply will decrease. Critical elements of the food supply chain (such as ingredients, chemicals and packaging) may be in short supply. In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice and increase the price, which will affect vulnerable groups.

It’s pretty basic, everyday, necessary stuff that’s going to be hit.

And all that has to be seen in the context of indicators this week of a new global recession.

On the Pod Save America podcast this week, former Obama staffers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer talked about how, in 2009 and beyond, Obama was able to work with other world leaders, including Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to oo-ordinate a global response. The thought of Trump and his advisers, who are commentators rather than specialists, dealing with something that caused them so much stress, did not fill them with confidence.

Leaving a decades long source of prosperity and collaboration at the exact moment when global economic turbulence hits is unwise to say the very least. Nobody would choose to isolate themselves at a moment of threat.

Jo’s speech this week shows us that people with sense are working on a credible plan to stop this nonsense. So we don’t have to put up with what Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings throw at us. There is a way out.

Establishing that in the minds of anxious voters is the most important thing Jo Swinson did this week.

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

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33 Comments

  • Harriet Harman says that Corbyn should have the first go at forming a government than can win a majority in the commons. So if Jo had spoken to her first she knew it wasn’t much of a starter.

    Ken Clarke – who says he did speak to Jo – is talking about a delay to discuss a fresh deal with the EU. So delivering a different Brexit but still A Brexit. Nothing about revoking Art 50 or a second referendum.

    Just as pro-Brexiteers frantically search for their Unicorn Brexit, so the Remainers are now trying to create some sort of Unicorn stop Brexit coalition.

  • Without Corbyn it definitely doesn’t happen. Jo, in trying to bypass him made an error of judgement. Like the SNP and Plaid and Green MP, she should’ve accepted he is dangling an opportunity in front of MPs – to not only stop no-deal, but prevent Brexit itself, via a remain option in a future referendum. Ken Clarke won’t even go that far, he’s voted for May’s deal three times remember.

    Whether LD MPs like Corbyn or whether he believes in the EU himself, that’s all irrelevant. Whether pro-EU Tories want to have him as caretaker PM should be called out as irrelevant nonsense too. What is relevant, is the prize dangling in front of MPs, available to them, that they’re refusing to grab.

    That’s all history will remember. It’ll take a very dim view of those who played the man and not the ball.

  • ……………………… When she said that people like Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman would be great choices to lead a Government of National Unity as they didn’t have any long term ambitions to do the job, of course she had spoken to them first……………..

    But Harriet Harman has said she would back the Corbyn-led temporary government as a first option, but could be open to other possibilities if this did not garner enough support. Jo Swinson’s statement didn’t mention that caveat.

  • Jo Swinson was right that Corbyn does not command enough support to put together an alternative government of national unity. I think the issue is that the tone of her initial response came across as unsupportive if attempts to stop Brexit. Even though that is precisely the opposite of what she was looking to achieve. Jo was trying to be constructive.

    Jo needs to double down from here and state that if Corbyn has the numbers he should pick up the phone and persuade her. If he doesn’t he should get out the way and go with the Swinson plan.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '19 - 9:24am

    Give the lady a chance. She’s only been in the job five minutes! As far as putting together what now appears to be called a GNU (I prefer to call it a GoNU) people seem to forget that, without significant numbers of Tory MPs supporting it, it has no chance at all and they are unlikely to want to see Corbyn in charge whatever the circumstances.

    Jo Swinson is certainly a very talented politician. What she needs to realise is that constant expressions of machismo may appeal to many of her members; but are becoming increasingly a turnoff for many members of the public, who just want an end to this madness.

    Whatever happens before or after 31 October is not going to heal the self inflicted wounds of out hopelessly divided country in the short, let alone, the long term.

    Oh, Mr Cameron, what HAVE you done?!

  • Jo Swinson is the leader of the Liberal Democrat party not a member of the Labour Party. Her job is to increase support for her party and promote its policies with the aim of eventually winning a General Election. Any coalitions with other parties or support in the House of Commons have always damaged the Liberals in the past and would do so again.There is little chance of Mr Corbyn becoming Prime Minister with the present party numbers in the Commons so it is pointless to promote the idea.

  • Life was perfectly civilised in the sixties before our entry into the EU. There were no shortages and no massive inequalities as there are now. Under the truly mixed economy of that time people were well fed, well clothed, well housed and supported by a benevolent welfare state. The price of leaving the EU may be a few temporary difficulties but it is a price worth paying for achieving our independence from the undemocratic EUropean Union which gives so many governments of the centre and right their justification for implementing their neo-liberal, anti-socialist, privatising policies.

  • John Bicknell 19th Aug '19 - 9:40am

    There does seem to have been something of a climbdown over the weekend. Jane Dodds appeared to have been put forward as a spokesperson to indicate that the Lib Dems would support Jeremy Corbyn, if he had the numbers to back him. The Independent (online edition) is today suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is willing to consider alternative names as caretaker PM. If true, that’s a major concession. It will be hard enough as it is to put together a rainbow coalition to form a caretaker administration; it’s a welcome sign that there’s been a backtracking from the confrontational rhetoric of last week.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Aug '19 - 9:41am

    @John Marriott
    “Oh, Mr Cameron, what HAVE you done?!”

    Sloped off into the sunset to earn a fortune on the speaking circuit? Anything except take responsibility?

  • Rob Parsons 19th Aug '19 - 9:58am

    Mack: “implementing their neo-liberal, anti-socialist, privatising policies” is exactly why Boris et al want to leave the EU. Don’t forget the key difference between the EU and the state the Brexiters want to have after we’ve left is the thick strand of human rights legislation and practices that is woven through every institution of the EU, and has proved impossible to unpick. That is what – in the EU – protects us from the depradations of the neoliberal elite, and that is why they want us to leave.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '19 - 10:45am

    @Mack
    Yes, life was ‘cool’ in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, at least in the South East. However, by the 1970s things were far from ‘swinging’. Joining the EEC helped us weather the worst excesses of trades union militancy, 25% inflation and the bailout from the IMF before the fortuitous revenues from North Sea Oil kicked in, which the Tatcher Government used largely to cushion its decimation of large parts of our manufacturing industry on the altar of Financial Services.

    You wrote on another thread that, if all else failed, to get your precious Brexit, you would hold your nose and vote for Farage’s company (because political party it ain’t). Do you honestly think that your socialist values would survive five minutes in a ‘dog eat dog’, low regulation freebooting Singapore style economy? Better start by getting your hair cut short (if you’ve still got any) and stopping chewing gum in public!

  • John Bicknell 19th Aug ’19 – 9:40am………………There does seem to have been something of a climbdown over the weekend. Jane Dodds appeared to have been put forward as a spokesperson to indicate that the Lib Dems would support Jeremy Corbyn, if he had the numbers to back him. The Independent (online edition) is today suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn is willing to consider alternative names as caretaker PM……………..

    “If he had the numbers” is the key point and could easily have been sorted out with the sensible meetings Jeremy Corbyn initially proposed.
    Had Jo Swinson been states(man)like, instead of rushing out with her “Nonsense” remark, talks might already have been arranged.

    Ken Clark’s record on ‘Remaining” is hardly positive and Harriet Harman seems reluctant.
    “Numbers” seem to dictate that any ‘temporary leader’ should be from the Labour party and, if Jeremy Corbyn cannot get enough support, who better than Sir Kier Starmer? He was jeremy Corbyn’s choice to speak on EU matters (and, so, may well be acceptable to him) he is popular within grassroots Labour (favourite for the leadership if Jeremy Corbyn steps down) and on record as being in favour of another vote.

    Still, without ‘talks’ we’ll still be no further along with days, instead of weeks, to go!

  • In the face of a full-blown constitutional crisis, with a Prime Minister ready to confirm the decision to leave the EU “with or without a deal” without the consent of Parliament and possibly after having lost a vote of confidence, some alternative must be found.
    With the present Parliamentary numbers, an alternative government would have to have the support of the whole of the PLP to gain the required majority in the House. Everyone knows that there is a significant minority of Labour MPs which would prefer another leader over their present one, but ironically that’s why the majority would never support a different ‘interim’ PM (whatever that may mean in practical terms), for fear of starting an internal war. At the same time, there is clearly no parliamentary majority to support Mr Corbyn in that role.
    An unorthodox but possible approach would be a triumvirate drawn from across all parties, in which Jeremy Corbyn would be balanced by Kenneth Clark and possibly Jo. MPs would be required to hold their noses long enough for this trio to guide Parliament through a decision on how to cross the 31 October watershed, whether by revoking Article 50 or more likely getting an extension pending the outcome of an election or referendum.
    Power sharing in peacetime may be unprecedented for the UK (Northern Ireland excepted), but has worked for short periods in many places, and these are not normal times.

  • Mack: My recollection of the 1960s was that while we had enough food and clothes decent housing was a problem and the nationalised utilities always claimed to be short of staff so that there were long waits for service and public transport was beset with strikes because the unions knew that the taxpayers would finance their demands without any risk of their services being dispensed with despite the customers deserting the railways and buses in droves.

  • Sue Sutherland 19th Aug '19 - 11:07am

    Rob Parsons. Agree.

  • Corbyns Plan wasn’t even meant to work, that’s why he didn’t bother talking to anyone in other Parties (or his own) before he launched it. He had 2 aims, 1st & most important – to get Labour Remainers off his back in the run-up to Conference & 2nd to attack The Libdems. That 2nd aim had the useful side-effects of binding The Labour Coalition back together for a while (nothing unites better than a common enemy) & perhaps sabotaging any Real attempts to block Brexit.
    Corbyn has been a consistent Lexit supporter for Decades, a No-Deal Brexit with The Tories getting the blame would suit Labour perfectly.
    I believe that Corbyn strategy is short-sighted, even in his own terms but its got Labour doubters back on board.

  • From today’s Guardian Live https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2019/aug/19/brexit-latest-news-jeremy-corbyn-speech-labour-could-be-officially-neutral-in-any-second-referendum-campaign-john-mcdonnell-suggests-live-news

    “Corbyn is now taking questions.

    Q: You say you will do anything in your power to stop a no-deal Brexit. Would that include stepping aside as leader of a caretaker government?

    Labour supporters in the audience shout “no”. At least one person says the question is a disgrace. They also complain when a second journalist suggests Corbyn does not have enough support to become PM himself.

    Corbyn says he will do everthing to stop a no-deal Brexit.

    He is leader of the opposition, he says. All the precedent is that the leader of the opposition should be given the chance to form a government when the government falls.

    There is a lot of “what iffery” around, he says.

    He says if Tory MPs and others are serious about stopping no deal, they should support his no confidence motion. They should “get on board”, he says.”

    Two observations from me:

    (1) Corbyn did not rule out stepping aside.

    (2) But the audience reaction suggests that Corbyn would find it very difficult to step aside, even if he wanted to. He would also have to persuade all his MPs to accept it. A disgruntled few Labour MPs could make a Corbyn step-aside unworkable.

    Sure, Labour are playing hardball, and it sticks in the craw to let them act as Britain’s rescuers from No Deal Brexit. But is there any alternative?

    Apart, that is, from leading the Meatloaf Remain Movement, which will do “anything” to avoid No Deal Brexit, but which won’t do “that”?

  • @Christian

    By dismissing the idea of Corbyn as interim PM before Tory MPs had ruled it out, Jo did all she could to make Corbyn being unacceptable to Tory MPs a self-fulfilling prophecy. Jo could’ve slated those Tory MPs for ‘playing politics’ in a time of crisis. She gave Tory MPs a get out of jail free card.

    How will history judge those rejecting the opportunity to thwart no-deal and Brexit altogether on the basis of a superficial, personal dislike for the man who would be caretaker PM. Shallow stuff, isn’t it.

  • Corbyn has today stated he is ‘open to an alternative caretaker PM’ , if that’s the only way of preventing no-deal.

    The question now is : Will Corbyn’s critics ever be prepared to accept ‘yes’ for an answer?

    What is Jo doing to organise, coordinate with Labour, SNP, PC and Tories to call some sort of special conference to see who can garner support? She’s got what she wanted.

  • This whole effort is designed to stop the Liberal Democrat revival which is threatening the hopelessly divided Labour Party. The Liberals and Liberal Democrats have been cornered into supporting the other parties whenever there is a national crisis. Irish Home Rule, the House of Lords and the People’s Budget in 1910, the First World War, Free Trade in 1923 and 1931and the crash of 2008 and the naïve Liberals supported the other party only to get all the blame and the big party all the credit.

    The Brexit crisis is entirely the fault of the Conservatives and the Labour Party and we should step aside and let them get all of the blame for the mess they have made.

  • @Rob Parsons.
    Are you really suggesting that once we have left the EU and attained our independence a socialist government won’t be able to legislate to protect our human rights?. You really are thinking in the short term, aren’t you?

  • Paul Barker 19th Aug '19 - 2:27pm

    Any element of “personal Dislike” for Corbyn is shared by most Voters, he has broken all the records for Voter disapproval , beating Thatcher & Foot by a long chalk.
    However tribal they are about “Their” Leader, three-quarters of Labour MPs don’t think much of him either.
    Barely half of Labour Voters approve of Corbyn & not much more more than half of Labour Members either.
    Corbyn lives in 1968, that is the big problem with him. The World has moved on & Corbyn hasn’t.

  • @Andy – of course any Tory MP that votes for a no confidence motion will find their career coming to an end anyway. So Jo isn’t making it harder for them at all. She’s making the point that even with their careers at an end they still wouldn’t vote for corbyn as interim PM. Jo’s being constructive by pointing it out.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '19 - 4:46pm

    @Mack
    I don’t know how old you are. I was born in 1943 so i benefitted from the post war Attlee Government, which, despite austerity, championed much needed reforms. However, by the 1960s and into the 1970s the kind of ‘dirigiste’ policies favoured by Labour back in the 1940s and generally supported by the Tories were starting to unravel. Then along came Mrs Thatcher and the baby was well and truly thrown out with the bath water! Times change, attitudes change, aspirations change, albeit not always for the better. We are no longer in the 1970s where a significant number of militant trades unions held many industries to ransom. As JFK famously said at the Berlin Wall, “We know democracy isn’t perfect; but we don’t need a wall to keep our people in”.

    The only way you are going to get a socialist U.K., whatever that actually is, is by having a No Deal Brexit. But that presupposes a Labour Government. The problem, as you yourself have said, may be having to hold your nose and voting for the Brexit Party in the event of a General Election, especially if Labour backs remain. However, do you really fancy your chances in the kind of low tax, low regulation that Farage and co envisage? Not unless you support a revolution! But perhaps you do.

  • David Allen 19th Aug '19 - 5:01pm

    “The Brexit crisis is entirely the fault of the Conservatives and the Labour Party and we should step aside and let them get all of the blame.”

    Yes, that seems to be the way it is being played. Strangle at birth anything that might possibly provide a positive way forward, such as Corbyn’s caretaker government initiative. Let Johnson ride roughshod over Parliamentary democracy to impose a No Deal Brexit, for fear that fighting back might make things worse. Don’t try to stop Johnson and Cummings trashing British democracy, because that might give Corbyn a chance of gaining influence, and Corbyn is of course the demonic reincarnation of Stalinism, whereas Johnson, Cummings, Bannon and Trump are just lovable teddy bears really. Recognise that actually stopping Brexit would take away our main source of votes, whereas pretending to fight Brexit while surreptitiously letting it happen would keep us riding high in the polls.

    So, relentless pessimism must be the order of the day. The bookies, who say that No Overall Majority is odds-on, don’t know what they’re talking about: Johnson cannot possibly be stopped from winning a landslide. The “caretaker government” must be tasked with a far more complex task (holding a referendum) than the simple tasks which Corbyn put forward, and it must then be dismissed as an impossible idea, because that task would be far too difficult for a caretaker government. It must be assumed that the EU would not extend Article 50 this time, and the fact that they happily did so last time must for some reason be viewed as irrelevant. The only thing we shouldn’t be pessimistic about is the legislative challenge to No Deal Brexit, because when the Clarkeites get such a motion through Parliament and Johnson proceeds to ignore it, we will get a lot of good propaganda, alongside the chaos of No Deal Brexit. And hey, just think of all the local elections we will win once the supermarkets are empty, and the rods are gridlocked!

    Too cynical? Then prove me wrong, Lib Dems!

  • @PaulBarker

    Yes, and Boris Johnson is popular according vto those same polls, just as Theresa May was (far more popular in fact than even Johnson ) before the 2017 election.

    How did Nick Clegg poll in 2012-2015, how did Tim Farron poll, or Vince Cable even Jo Swinson?

    Name recognition and negative publicity take their toll. The Tories get a relentlessly positive press thanks to those tax exile, billionaire proprietors. The thing that counts is an election campaign a good manifesto and leaders’ debates. Look how Clegg soared to ‘more popular than Churchill after 2010’s first leaders’ debate , the ‘I agree with Nick’ one. just after the 2017 election, Corbyn and May were polling neck and neck as to ‘who’d make the best PM?’ , Corbyn has similar ratings as today at the start of the campaign . It means very little.

  • Richard Underhill 19th Aug '19 - 7:41pm

    Ken Clarke is famously affable. When he was Health Secretary he took Labour’s John Prescott to a jazz club in London, accompanied by TV. He was rewarded with a hostile Question from Prescott. “Have you closed any hospitals recently?” Clarke was a little taken aback, but replied, “Not in your nick of the woods”, which Prescott accepted.
    In his autobiography ‘A Kind of Blue’ Ken Clarke explains that a rich aristocrat several centuries ago donated a hospital, which was on a valuable site in Mayfair. The current aristocrat, one of the richest men in the country, went to the PM and asked her to give it back, and to Ken Clarke’s chagrin, Margaret Thatcher agreed. He managed to dissuade her, sold the site for megabucks and used the proceeds to build new elsewhere.
    The question now is do we want EITHER Ken Clarke OR Harriet Harman?
    OR
    Do we want BOTH Ken Clarke AND Harriet Harman?
    I favour both, job-share, if necessary.
    The First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland are, in effect, co-equal.

  • David Garlick 19th Aug '19 - 8:58pm

    The problem is that some, most, MP’s cant see further than the end of their nose, or their deselection, or electoral loss. It is understandable but it means that we are stuck on a merry go round with no one at the switch. They need to trust their ‘what is best for the country’ instincts!
    The leaders of the Labour and Conservative Parties are unable to ‘control’ their MPs and are consequently rendered powerless themselves.
    All blindingly obvious as is the Peoples vote if they cannot reach a conclusion.

  • @ Martin ” putting a fox in charge of the henhouse.”

    The fox is already in charge. Goes by the name of de Pfeffel Johnson….. no hen is safe…..

  • Richard O'Neill 19th Aug '19 - 10:45pm

    The attacks on Jo Swinson are ludicrous. Right out of the gate she has been laid into by the SNP and Corbyn fans. They are both rattled.

    There have been three proposals for a govt national unity. Lucas and Corbyn both saw themselves heading this as PM, while Jo Swinson raised the prospect of compromise candidates. A GNU is not going to happen, but she has been the least self-absorbed about this

  • It would be unrealistic to assert that the 1960s were perfect for everyone. However, compared relatively to today’s levels of homelessness, massive wealth inequality, worker insecurity, and the destruction of the welfare state and social care, the 1960s were paradise. In the 1960s food banks were unheard of because they were unnecessary and the State was seen as a means of support for the less advantaged as well as a provider of affordable homes for the many. But ever since our entry into the EEC, I and millions like me have had to endure successive neo-liberal, governments which have appropriated and privatised the assets held in common for the benefit of all, and promoted and implemented greater and greater worker insecurity with concomitant homelessness, loss of dignity .and removal of the sense of a worthwhile stake in society. These neo-Liberal governments and their organs of propaganda have set working people against each other in order to protect the already privileged. All with the authority and justification of EU laws and rules. That is why, despite being a member of the Labour Party I will hold my nose and now vote for any party, be it Johnson’s Tory Party or the Brexit Party, as long as it guarantees it will get us out of the EU on the 21st October or as soon as possible after that date. That party will not remain in government forever and It will be more than worth voting for it in order to guarantee Britain’s long awaited independence. In my view it is the only way of ensuring a truly socialist future for this country once again.

  • @ Martin et al.
    It would be unrealistic to assert that the 1960s were perfect for everyone. However, compared relatively to today’s levels of homelessness, massive wealth inequality, worker insecurity, and the destruction of the welfare state and social care, the 1960s were paradise. In the 1960s food banks were unheard of because they were unnecessary and the State was seen as a means of support for the less advantaged as well as a provider of affordable homes for the many. But ever since our entry into the EEC, I and millions like me have had to endure successive governments which have privatised the assets held in common for the benefit of all, and promoted and implemented greater and greater worker insecurity with concomitant homelessness, loss of dignity .and removal of the sense of a worthwhile stake in society. These neo-Liberal governments have set working people against each other in order to protect the already privileged. All with the authority and justification of EU laws and rules. That is why, I will hold my nose and now vote for any party, be it Johnson’s Tory Party or the Brexit Party, as long as it guarantees it will get us out of the EU on the 31st October or as soon as possible after that date. That party will not remain in government forever and It will be more than worth me voting for it in order to guarantee Britain’s long awaited independence from Europe.

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