Monday night, one day before the much-noticed change in Tory leadership, the British Liberal Democrats also appointed a new party leader. After predecessor Vince Cable resigned in March, his deputy Joanne Kate “Jo” Swinson became the new incumbent. The 39-year-old Scot cannot only look back on many years of party, parliamentary and ministerial experience, but was also the favourite in the race for the position.
Accompanied by applause, Jo Swinson entered the stage on Monday evening as the new party leader of the British LibDems and was duly celebrated by the present party members. Swinson was visibly pleased to note that she had won against her competitor and party colleague, Ed Davey, with a lead of almost 20,000 votes (47,997 to 28,021 votes). Both had decidedly positioned themselves against Brexit in the run-up to the election. Swinson seeks to take up the party’s good poll results and continue its decisive anti-Brexit course. Under Vince Cable, the movement achieved its best results to date in the 2019 local and European elections with the slogan “Bollocks to Brexit”, borrowed from a grassroots movement.
“I am delighted, honoured, absolutely over the moon to stand before you as the leader of the Liberal Democrats. And as the first woman to lead our party,” Swinson began her acceptance speech immediately after the results were announced. “In the face of nationalism, populism and the catastrophe of Brexit, the two old parties have failed … as your leader, I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit.” In case of new national elections, which the LibDems are striving for, she will run for the office of Prime Minister. While Swinson ruled out any possible cooperation with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the party remains open to MPs from other parties. Swinson added that the condition was that they, like the LibDems, had to pursue a second referendum. This distinguishes Swinson from her former competitor Ed Davey, who was less open to collusion with other parties.
At just 39, Jo Swinson has a remarkable track record in British politics:
A LibDem party member since 17, she joined the coalition government in 2010-2015 as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Economics Minister Vince Cable and later Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. She was Junior State Secretary in the Economics Department, State Secretary for Women and Equal Opportunities, since 2017 Deputy Party Chairwoman and now also the first female party leader of a party traditionally dominated by men. Swinson thus joins the circle of European liberal female party leaders: Annie Lööf of the Swedish Centerpartiet (since 2011), Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD, Netherlands) and Corinne Cahen (DP, Luxembourg; both since 2012) are among the senior members of the liberal female group; and the trend is rising. Swinson winked at the joy of this triumph in her first speech with: “My feminist heart sings”.
However, the new leader will not be able to celebrate for too long. A first test for Swinson will be the election in Brecon and Radnorshire on August 1st, where the British liberals have the chance to win a thirteenth parliamentary mandate. While the Brexit party won the most votes in the European elections there, a “Remain Alliance” in favour of the LibDems was now formed. Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate and leader Jane Dodds currently leads the poll with over 40%. She is supported by numerous opposition and anti-Brexit parties, including the Greens, Change UK and the Renew Party. Whether such pacts and agreements could lead to the LibDems becoming king makers in the future, as some experts predict, is currently completely open.
European Affairs Manager