ANALYSIS: Liberal Democrats hail new era as Jo Swinson is crowned leader

Posted On: 
22nd July 2019

The Liberal Democrats didn’t hold back as they celebrated their new leader, finds Anahita Hossein-Pour

Jo Swinson won the leadership with more than 47,000 votes
Credit: 
PA

Maybe it was the cabaret club – an excellent choice of venue to bring some theatrical spirit to politics - but there was a lot of love in the room for Jo Swinson after she defeated Ed Davey in the race to succeed Vince Cable.

“About bloody time!” Lib Dem MP Layla Moran told PoliticsHome about the party electing its first female leader.

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“And she’s going to be a damn good one too…taking the fight to Johnson and Farage," she added.

Swinson's message to her faithful was loud and clear: “I stand before you today, not as just as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but as a candidate for Prime Minister.

“I am ready to take our party into a general election and win it.”

"I claimed that when I was first adopted and people laughed,” outgoing leader Sir Vince told PoliticsHome. "But actually, we’re in a much stronger position and we’re serious contenders for power.”

The Lib Dem grandee was also put in the spotlight, heaped with praise for turning around the party's fortunes during his two years in charge.

He took over from Tim Farron on the back of a disappointing general election result, but hands on the baton to his successor with his party still basking in the glow of hugely impressive results in the local and European elections.

The party is also clear favourites to win the upcoming Brecon and Radnorshire by-election from the Tories.

On how long he believed it could take for the Lib Dems to win the keys to Number 10, Sir Vince seemed quietly optimistic.

“The polls are not just ephemeral they’re fairly stable, we’re roughly the same level as the other parties at the moment so we have a chance of breaking through. And if that happens then as the leader of the party you’re in contention,” he said.

“The next election is so unpredictable, if we make a big breakthrough - anything could happen.” 

Meanwhile, Swinson gave a clear “my door is always open” signal to any MPs thinking of joining former Labour MP Chuka Umunna and defecting to the Lib Dems.

“I think there are a lot of people on the train and that even more of them might reach the destination with Jo as our Prime Minister candidate,” Umunna said.

“I think she will massively increase our bandwith and she’s got a clear position - stop Brexit but also stop the causes that led people to vote for Brexit in the first instance.”

The Lib Dems' newest MP also hailed his new leader as a “new generation” politician, who is willing to cross party lines to make change happen.

And her first speech as leader certainly banged that drum.

“The urgency of this moment in our country’s history needs us to think and act even bigger," she said.

“Whether it’s Brexit or the climate crisis, we don’t have the luxury to wait fifteen or twenty years for us to rebuild our seats in Parliament.

“We need to work with others, in whatever form or shape, to keep growing that liberal movement, that force we need in British politics to take on nationalism and populism, and to deliver the future our children deserve.

“This is the time for working together, not the time for tribalism.”

Ukonu Obasi, the Lib Dem candidate in Walthamstow in 2017, said: “You can see the whole hall is happy about this, in terms of numbers she almost got double the vote, she’s very, very popular.

“She’s a competent person, passionate about liberal values, and with her we’re really going to open a new chapter.”