Jo Swinson has been elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Succeeding Sir Vince Cable in the role, Swinson, the first woman to hold the position, beat her rival Ed Davey – winning 47,997 votes against 28,02 with 63 per cent of the vote. In her victory speech, Swinson said that on joining the party at 17, she had ‘never imagined that I would one day have the honour of leading our great party’.
So, how will she lead it? Swinson – who served as a business minister in the coalition – used her speech to cast the Liberal Democrats as the party of liberalism. She tried to paint Boris Johnson – in anticipation of him winning the Tory leadership contest – and Jeremy Corbyn as the products of nationalism and populism. As Isabel has reported on Coffee House, Swinson’s rival Ed Davey suggested on Friday that under his leadership the Lib Dems could support a Labour Queen’s Speech – if it involved a second referendum. Swinson gave no such inkling of olive branches to the main parties today. Instead, she dismissed Corbyn on the grounds that her party should not deal with someone who fails to have an opinion on one of the biggest issues of the day.
As for the Conservatives, Swinson suggested today’s Tories were close-minded. She spoke of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage in the same sentence more than once. She said that the likely next prime minister and the leader of the Brexit party both promoted a politics of hate and said it was for the Liberal Democrats to offer hope. She also offered a specific criticism of Johnson – accusing him of sucking up to president Trump in recent weeks when he should have been criticising the president for his language over the past week.
With both main parties receiving heavy criticism, it was little surprise that Swinson remains adamant that she can be the next prime minister. The comments won cheers in the room but privately party insiders are sceptical of the possibilities in a first-past-the-post electoral system.
However, it’s convenient for Swinson to push this idea as a focus on her taking power in No. 10 is attention grabbing and means that less time is spent discussing which main party she would do a deal with if the next election sprang a hung Parliament. Swinson made a plea for MPs from other parties to join her in the coming days. But even if she is successful, talk will eventually turn to who the Liberal Democrats could work with in a future parliament where they could be a kingmaker.