What a brilliant time to be a Liberal Democrat!

So said a very smiley Jo Swinson as she gave an interview to Sky News this morning from the gorgeous town of Builth Wells. I had already decided to write a piece with that title this morning.

There are two things I will never get tired of seeing on news channel banners – Jo Swinson, Leader of the Liberal Democrats and Jane Dodds, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire.

Jane was also interviewed and she said she was going to hunt down Boris Johnson, wherever he may be hiding, and tell him that he has to take no deal off the table. She explained that the Lib Dems were a Remain party and we want to see a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

I seem to have given myself an authentic by-election experience. I eventually got to bed at about 4:30 and woke up about 8:45 and decided that I wanted to get up to see the celebrations from Brecon. It had to be really early because Jo has to get from Brecon to be on stage with Iain Dale at the Fringe in Edinburgh at 6:00. I will be there too and I’m really looking forward to it. I may need a nap first, though.

Two days ago, it was 36 years since I joined the SDP on my 16th birthday. I can honestly say that the last few months have been amongst the best I’ve had in the party. We are in a place where the long held principles and values of the party are entirely in alignment with the national interest. Not only that, but we’re embracing it with a very clear message. Even John Curtice was saying positive things about us on BBC News, saying that nobody would have expected us to win Brecon and Radnorshire a few months ago.

We have three leaders across the country who are spirited, likeable and brilliant at delivering that message with confidence. Two are relatively new and all are now in Parliament. It’s been a real struggle for the Welsh Party to get the coverage while their leader didn’t hold elected office, but Jane is now in a much stronger position – and when she does get media, she’s really, really good at it.

Jo has only been UK leader for 11 days, but already she has been all over the media. And she showed her different style of leadership by getting out there and knocking up with Jane yesterday. Party leaders don’t often do that, but it’s very much her style to be in the thick of the action at these vital moments.

Willie Rennie has led us through some very dark times in Scotland. It’s largely down to the force of his personality, propensity for the most exuberant photo opps (as well as his affinity with farm animals) that we have managed to pull ourselves back up. We went into the 2016 election worried that we might end up with no MSPs at all and ended up winning constituency seats from the SNP.

This all compares very well to every other party. The Tories are a mess, although, like the Republicans with Trump, they seem to have been temporarily cowed by Boris. How long that truce will last as he drives the country to a no deal disaster is anybody’s guess. Not long would be my take. Whether Labour is capable of learning the very obvious lesson that its fence-sitting on Brexit is not doing it any good remains to be seen. But it’s not easy when you have a Brexiteer as leader of a party that wants to Remain.

Even the SNP’s usual impenetrable show of unity looks like it might be starting to fracture. Nicola Sturgeon’s position as leader is not as secure as once it might have been.

The Brecon campaign itself was an absolute joy. Even when it rained. I went down to help Jane because I knew I wanted to see her in Parliament. I was feeling pretty knackered, though. I expected to come back feeling more knackered, not rejuvenated. Meeting people like Margaret, aged 79 and on her first by-election was incredibly restorative.

We are a united party with a massive sense of purpose. We’ve just had a leadership election which showed us off very well. Contested leadership elections haven’t always done that. The Clegg vs Huhne one in 2007 was marred by the “Calamity Clegg” incident and the Farron vs Lamb one was conducted at a time when we were all going through collective grief after the horror of 2015 and so got pretty fraught.

We have some huge challenges ahead. Stopping Brexit isn’t going to be easy and nor will establishing our vision of hope for the country in people’s minds.

However, we are better prepared than we have ever been to do so. We need to build on that success, get more money in and build a general election winning campaign. Jo is right to set her sights on being Prime Minister. The SNP has already shown us that a third party can sweep all before it in a first past the post election if it captures the mood effectively.

But before a General Election we have two more by-elections to fight – with two amazing woman candidates – Beatrice Wishart in Shetland and Laura Gordon in Sheffield Hallam.

We have a lot of work to do to achieve our goals of stopping Brexit and challenging for No 10 – and we need to get on with it. But, first, a Β nap….

* 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.


  • Richard Underhill 2nd Aug '19 - 3:19pm

    Caron Lindsay 2nd August 2019
    “But could they have won the by-election without the help of other parties?”
    Good question, but please will nobody answer it with either a Yes or a No.
    We may welcome their co-operation in the future.
    The Greens also stood down in the Richmond Park by-election, to remove Zac Goldsmith and because of the Heathrow issue, before the 2017 general election.
    Yes looks like boasting, ungratefully. Commentators on Sky News had been expecting a larger majority, so it was right to avoid complacency. After 10 pm Ed Davey was managing expectations, downwards.
    At the bookies we started at 7 to 1 on.
    Stories of betting coups from the Eastbourne by-election are probably untrue, there were no bookies.
    Stories of betting coups from the Ribble Valley by-election are possibly true, according to the Liberal Democrat News. I did not get a bet on, there was no spare time.
    We may win to win this constituency again soon.
    If the Tories have any sense they will get themselves a different candidate.

  • Yeovil Yokel 2nd Aug '19 - 8:00pm

    They were both heartening interviews.

    I voted for Ed Davey in the leadership contest largely because I felt that he was a better media performer, but as it became clear that Jo would win I was hoping that she would grow into her new role, and the evidence so far suggests that she has. Although she’s only 10 days into the job at the end of a gruelling series of nationwide hustings, and had probably been up half the night, she seemed to have bags of energy and her answers were crisp, spontaneous-sounding and to the point. So, well done Jo (and Jane).

  • Some of the media chat in the aftermath of the by election has focused on the Tory MP Philip Lee, who has said he is ‘taking the summer to think about’ whether he will defect to the LibDems.
    I don’t know what conversations Vince or Jo have had with this chap, but I don’t like the idea that we are passively sitting and waiting for MPs to decide if they want to defect to us, like an eager dog waiting to be taken for a walk. I’m also not sure this particular chap will be a good fit for us. His past positions don’t show a very Liberal bent, and in explaining his disillusionment with the Tories, he keeps saying ‘I joined when John Major was PM, that’s my Conservative party’. Well, I’m old enough to remember John Major’s government and we LibDems fought it vigorously.
    So I think we need to make clear that, while we welcome Liberal-minded people, we are not a dumping ground for MPs who hate Brexit and have nowhere else to go. I think maybe Mr Lee would be better joining the ChUK or the Independent group – and we would work with him as we work with them.
    I expect I will be labelled ‘tribalist’ by some people now. It’s not the case – I am happy to welcome people from other parties, BUT I want to hear them talk passionately about what Liberal values they have, and how they believe our policies on the vital issues are the right ones (not just Brexit). The title of this article is right. The potential defectors should be eager ones, not us.

  • Arthur Bailey 3rd Aug '19 - 9:15am

    This was a totally fantastic result and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to bring this about.
    Even better though, was to see that the Monster Raving Loony Party received more votes than UKIP!! (And this is in an area which voted FOR Brexit!) Is this the final nail in the coffin of this dreadful Party?

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Aug '19 - 11:43am

    “Stories of betting coups from the Eastbourne by-election are probably untrue, there were no bookies.”

    Strange assertion. I’ve been in people’s kitchens that were refitted on their Eastbourne winnings πŸ™‚

    “Even John Curtice was saying positive things about us on BBC News, saying that nobody would have expected us to win Brecon and Radnorshire a few months ago.”

    That’s an equally strange assertion given that the equivalent constituency (maybe the same boundaries???) was won fairly comfortably in both 2011 and 2016 in the Welsh Assembly and neither year was particularly stellar. That has meant that the organisation and network was still in place. This was probably one of the 10 best constituencies for a potential LD gain – even before the particular circumstances of the election.

    You could make a case that Shetland and Hallam are also in that list of 10 so this is a really lucky series of contests!

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