Jo Swinson is brave. She was not only prepared to be interviewed by Andrew Neil, but she told him: “I’m proud of the campaign that we’ve been fighting.” The normal translation of that is: “I concede defeat.”
She has already been criticised, sometimes harshly, for losing this election. But I thought she deserved credit, not just for turning up to the interview but for standing up for what she believes.
She stood up for her record and her principles against the heaviest onslaught modern TV has available. Neil asked her: “Who voted nine times to introduce the bedroom tax? ... Who voted several times to introduce the benefits cap? ... That would be you.”
But she stood her ground. It was a coalition government, she said. The Liberal Democrats believe in coalition government in principle; they believe in working with other parties. She defended her record, and her party’s record, of making the policies of that government better and more compassionate.
Neil didn’t ask her about her decision to stake everything, including her months-old leadership, on allowing Boris Johnson to call this election. It doesn’t look as if that is going to work, but it wasn’t a terrible idea at the time. She could reasonably make the case that it was the only chance of stopping Brexit, given that parliament was edging ever closer to passing the withdrawal agreement bill.
So she and Neil danced around the hung parliament scenario that would be the next step towards stopping Brexit. At one point Swinson said, brightly: “We stopped Brexit twice already.” Well full marks for putting a bright Remainer gloss on the larger failure. She said she wasn’t going to put Jeremy Corbyn in No 10, whereas she knows perfectly well that this would be the most likely route to the second referendum that would be the only way to stop Brexit.
She knows that Boris Johnson is not going to give her the referendum, although she did say that she thought the choice in that referendum ought to be between Johnson’s Brexit deal and remaining in the EU: “Boris Johnson’s deal has got advocates.”
That would save the time of Corbyn having to negotiate a new deal, I suppose.
But neither she nor Neil seemed to think that a second referendum was likely. So if Johnson won the election and we left the EU, would she resign as leader of her party, having failed in her only mission?
“I’m here to stay and we’re going to get a great result.” She’s not afraid of Andrew Neil; she’s not afraid of arguing for policies she believes in even when she knows they may be unpopular; and she’s not afraid of losing.
In this election of cowardice and fantasy policies, there is something admirable about that.
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