After Tim Farron’s sudden resignation, the Liberal Democrat party is awash with a sense of hopeful optimism, with party activists now happily discussing the coronation of Jo Swinson as its new leader. But before the Lib Dems go ahead and vindicate the bookies’ early odds, it may be worth taking a look at Swinson’s political history. How truly liberal is she?
An MP cannot escape their voting record, and Swinson’s is attached to her like a ball and chain. On welfare, she has voted to cut payments including those for people with illness or disability; on economic policy, she voted against increased income tax over £150,000, and voted against a tax on banker’s bonuses, protecting the wealth of those who need it least at the cost of the most vulnerable in society; Swinson voted to cut funding for young people seeking jobs or further training, voted slowing the increase of rail fees, and against restricting the fees that landlords can charge tenants.
Antithetical to the core principles of the Lib Dems, Swinson has stood in the way of devolved democratisation through votes against local government funding. She has allowed environmental destruction by voting to sell off state-owned forests. Her shameful record still does not end there: her vote for increased restrictions on legal aid hinders access to justice for those who are already barely getting by.
Swinson’s record is not consistent with the Lib Dem constitutional mission of enacting “a free, fair, and open society”. It is more fitting of a true blue MP of the “nasty party”. Swinson, after all, served happily as a junior minister in the Coalition Government.
Any Lib Dem knows that the party is a broad tent, welcoming liberals of all types. That’s what makes the party so unique. And yet recent history tells us that tacking to the right of the centre ground, as occurred under the leadership of Nick Clegg and during the period of coalition, does not work. With a right of centre manifesto, we lost seats going into 2010, and then hit the lowest of the low in 2015. Jo Swinson as leader would oversee a shift back towards the wrong side of the ideological spectrum.
Halting its downward spiral into political irrelevance, the Lib Dems gained seats under Tim Farron, a leader who was decidedly more left of centre than his predecessors. He voted against the increasing of tuition fees, while Swinson voted for them. His leadership oversaw progressive policies including the 1p additional income tax to fund the NHS, a commitment to reverse cuts to Universal Credit, a promise to reinstate housing benefits for young people and a pledge to abolish the public sector pay cap.
Going into the 2017 election, the Liberal Democrats had a progressive manifesto, and increased its number of seats as a result.
So if the party wants to continue the renewed momentum it has generated in the last year, to eventually make themselves the official opposition and, in turn, become the governing party of this country, a return to the past is not what we need. It would be foolish to regress to the rose garden Coalition era by electing Jo Swinson as leader.Reuse content