I could have waited another week before voting, but today I realised that my mind was made up in the Liberal Democrat leadership election and so I cast my vote for Jo Swinson.
It’s been odd watching a leadership campaign unfold without being involved with one of the campaigns, and it’s given me a chance to think more about the future of the UK, the future of the party and the future of British politics and which of Jo or Ed Davey would be the best choice. Back at the end of May, I wrote a post about how I’d like to see the party develop in terms of its approach and its policies, and while neither candidate has jumped fully with what I wrote, I feel more confident now that the party is heading in a good direction.
It’s time to talk about power: the future of the Liberal Democrats
Some thoughts on the future direction of the party and how we need to put power at the heart of our policies.
When this contest started, I was mildly leaning towards Jo, and as the contest has unfolded, I’ve moved more and more in that direction to the point where I figured I might as well get on and vote, rather than running the risk of forgetting to do before the 22nd rolled around. (And now I can join everyone else in waiting impatiently for the result to be declared)
There’s three broad reason why I’ve voted for Jo:
First, I think from her history in the party she gets what the role of the party leader is — and more importantly, what it isn’t. In the Liberal Democrats, the leader’s role is one that doesn’t have too much official power within the structures, Liberals are generally distrustful of giving too much power to one person, even if we’ve elected them, and so the leader has to work within those power structures, not ignore them. At their best, previous leaders have got the various parts of the party all working together and pulling in the same direction, at their worst, they’ve tried to ignore them or bulldoze their way through the constraints, insisting that the leader has to be in charge of everything.
What Jo has shown in this campaign is that she realises that while the leader doesn’t get given a massive amount of power, they do get given a large platform and they can use the soft power that platform gives them to lead the party forward. Her pitch hasn’t been “I will do this” but rather “we can do this”. Her experience and track record as a party activist, as an MP and as Deputy Leader, shows me that she’ll listen to people in the party, especially those who’ll tell her what she might not want to hear, and not ignore that our structures and internal organisations are there for a reason that’s not just doing the leader’s bidding.
Secondly is the way she wants the party to work in the wider mess that is British politics right now. From what I’ve seen, this appears to be the one substantial difference between the candidates. Ed is the candidate very much downplaying the potential of deals or working together with others, in favour of trying to make the party the main focus of any new movement, while Jo is in favour of a much broader approach and is more open to working with others.
For me, hers is the right approach. The UK is in the middle of a political crisis, with constitutional and economic crises gearing themselves up to join the fray. To insist on politics as usual and focusing on the party to the detriment of the wider causes we need to advance is misinterpreting what’s going on. The evidence from around the country is that working with others as partners and equals gets results, even if it can be bloody difficult to achieve and to keep together. And yes, a lot of the people we’re going to have to work with aren’t Liberal Democrats, but we’ve spent decades advocating reforms to the political system that would require people of different opinions to work together to get things done. Jo recognises this and I think is the person who can bring us together with all those disparate elements from different parties, separate movements and diverse causes to get real change — and not just on Brexit.
Third, I’ve only ever met Jo briefly in person, but I know several people who’ve worked with her in various roles and situations over the last couple of decades. What I’ve heard from all of them is not that she’s a perfect political construct, devoid of all faults, but that she’s someone capable of being party leader and that she has their keen support for it. She’s someone who’s a great advocate for the causes she believes in but also doesn’t believe her way is the only way. To be a good leader of the party you need to be able to listen and change your mind when necessary, and their testimony tells me that she can and will do that.
There’s lots of other reasons I could cite, but those are the three I think are most important and have been most important to me in making up my mind. I think Jo is the best choice for leader, and that’s why my vote went to her today.