I suppose that I should write a brief piece about the LibDems, now that they have elected a new leader. Somehow an underwhelming topic. First of all, the new leader.
Jo Swinson MP was born in Scotland in 1980, went to a local state school and then to the LSE, graduating, it seems, aged only 20, and with a degree in management. She then worked briefly for a small enterprise in Yorkshire before becoming marketing manager with public relations duties for a local radio station in Hull, called Viking Radio.
Elected as MP in 2005 [LibDem, East Dunbartonshire], she was PPS to Nick Clegg, then a PUS, then a junior minister, all during the time of the “Con Coalition” of 2010-2015.
Jo Swinson voted for all or almost all of the Con Coalition policies, and has endorsed both zero hours contracts and “flexible working”. I am not a LibDem, but I have to say that Jo Swinson is really rather far from the LibDem traditional stance on such matters. She comes across as almost “libertarian” as far as worker rights are concerned.
The other candidate, Ed Davey, is not far from Jo Swinson, ideologically, though I should say that Davey was the more intelligent candidate of the two, so it makes sense for the LibDems to go for the less-intelligent and less-educated Jo Swinson…Davey was also the more experienced candidate, being about 15 years older and having been in Parliament for longer (since 1997, compared to Swinson’s 2005); Davey was also the only one to have served in the Cabinet.
Both Swinson and Davey lost their seats in 2015 (Davey to a Conservative, Swinson to the SNP), but were re-elected in the same constituencies in 2017. Both are “doing rather well” financially outside politics too: Davey is director or consultant to a number of companies, while Jo Swinson’s husband, Duncan Hames, an accountant (and also a LibDem MP from 2010 until 2015), now works for Transparency International, a well-funded NGO.
The LibDems’ situation and chances
2010 was surely the high point of LibDemmery. 57 MPs (out of 650) and a share in government: the Con Coalition. In 2005, under the egregious Charles Kennedy, the LibDems had won 62 seats out of 646, but were not in government.
The LibDems got 23% of the popular vote in 2010, but only about 9% of the MPs.
I believe that the LibDems could have demanded electoral reform from the Conservatives. They did not. They sold their chance for a few ministerial places, for official cars, red boxes, rank and flummery. In return they (Ed Davey and Jo Swinson among them) voted for every misconceived “Conservative” measure: the appalling regime of hounding of and cruelty to the poor disabled, sick and unemployed; the whole nonsense of “austerity”, which left the UK economy almost alone in advanced states in being mired in recession and/or low growth for years; the near-destruction of the armed services as an active and effective global force. For all that and more, for being doormats for the Conservatives, the LibDems were punished by the electorate.
In 2015, the LibDem vote slumped to 7.9% (8 MPs), then slumped again in 2017, to 7.4% (but, by the vagaries of the British electoral system, the LibDems ended up with 12 MPs).
In the 2019 UK European elections, the LibDems came second. I blogged about them then:
but they failed fairly miserably at the Peterborough by-election a week or so later:
I do not think that I have a lot to add to what I then wrote. My view is that there is and will be no “LibDem surge”, but what there might be is a LibDem gain from the decline of both of the other main System parties, as well as an electoral benefit arising from the Brexit Party surge —if it happens— in the South of England, mainly, where the LibDems are not infrequently in 2nd or close 3rd place.
If the Conservative Party is hit badly in the South, its voters split between Con and BP, the main beneficiary is likely to be not the Brexit Party, and not Labour (in most cases) but the LibDems. In those circumstances (and “Change UK” having died shortly after birth), it is not now impossible to imagine the LibDems again having a bloc of 50 MPs, something that I admit I thought, until very recently, would be impossible. The LibDems may not deserve it, but might in any event get it. In fact, thinking of —inter alia— Boris Johnson, that might just be the epitaph of our present age.
Update, 12 December 2022
We now know that there was the 2019 General Election only 5 months after I wrote the above assessment. At that election, my initial judgment, rather than my later speculation, was vindicated: the LibDem vote increased from 7.4% to 11.55%, but the FPTP system resulted in the LibDems losing 1 MP. That MP was Jo Swinson, who exited political life, having led her party for less than 5 months (144 days).
After the departure of Jo Swinson, Ed Davey was elected leader.
The LibDems had 12 MPs after the 2017 General Election, which reduced to 11 after the 2019 General Election. However, since then the LibDems have had three by-election successes, taking their number to 14.