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Jo Swinson: The Lib Dems represent modern Britain and we’re aiming for the top

July 29, 2019 1:05 PM
By Jo Swinson in The Evening Standard
Originally published by High Peak Liberal Democrats

Jo Swinson MPLondon is a liberal city, in all senses of the word. It is a city built on the idea that the multitude of cultures that inhabit it are a benefit, not a curse, where communities from all over the globe live and work side by side, enriching each other's experiences. It is a city where Donald Trump's arrival is met not with fanfare, but with fury.
It proved it is a liberal city in May, when the Lib Dems topped the poll and sent three MEPs to the European Parliament to fight for our place in Europe. And I hope it will show it is a liberal city again when it elects Lib Dem Siobhan Benita as the next Mayor of London, so that we can build a safer and greener capital.

Earlier this week, when Boris Johnson, London's former Mayor, finally got the keys to No 10, he promised a Cabinet that represents modern Britain. But as all Londoners know, promises made by Johnson tend to be less impressive in reality than they are in rhetoric. In his reshuffle this week, he gave jobs to people who have supported the death penalty, who have bragged about not being a feminist, and who are completely opposed to abortion even in cases of rape. He has also sacked the only LGBT+ member of the Cabinet.

It shouldn't surprise us that these are the people Johnson picked. Just look at him and what he has said. He has compared Muslim women to letterboxes and described elite women athletes as "glistening like wet otters". He is determined, despite all the evidence on how damaging it will be to our economy, to pursue a no-deal Brexit. And yesterday, when I asked him to fulfil his reassurances that the three million EU citizens - our friends, family and neighbours - would retain their rights after Brexit, and to back a Lib Dem Bill to that effect, he was all talk and no trousers.

And while all this is going on, Jeremy Corbyn is nowhere to be seen. As well as failing to root out the anti-Semitism that is plaguing Labour, he is failing to be the Opposition to this far-Right Government. Yesterday was his last opportunity to table a motion of no confidence and stop Johnson's Government in its tracks, and he bottled it. Yet another crucial test of his leadership, yet another failure.

It would be easy to look at Johnson's new Cabinet or Corbyn's mediocrity and feel gloomy about the state of politics and the future of our country. But I am an optimist at heart - despite what the PM says about those of us who think a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic.

I have hope because I know that the group of people who sit around the Cabinet table or on the Opposition front bench do not represent the modern Britain I know. The Britain I love is the one I've seen as I've travelled the country in these past few months for the Liberal Democrat leadership election.

From Aberdeen to Cornwall, and everywhere in between, I've met so many people who believe that Britain should celebrate our differences, not just tolerate them; who believe that we should embrace the cultural diversity that has made Britain great, and who believe that we are at our strongest when we work with our European neighbours, not when we turn our back on them.

Those fundamentally liberal values - openness, inclusion, internationalism - are what truly represent the best of Britain, and it's those values that I'm determined to fight for as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

It is frustrating when I am endlessly asked which of Johnson or Corbyn I'd rather was in Downing Street, as if my role in British politics is that of an X Factor judge, picking which act I prefer but having no ability to compete in the contest myself. To accept that as my role would be to accept that the British people really only have two abysmal choices, that their political and economic future is ultimately a choice between blue and red. Tory or Labour. Johnson or Corbyn. But I don't accept that choice.

When I decided to run for the leadership of the Lib Dems, the party was in a very different situation. But the febrile nature of politics right now means people are no longer asking whether it is realistic to aim for the top. With the future of the country at stake, aiming for the top is what the Liberal Democrats must do, because the UK deserves better than Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn.

Our country deserves a party that isn't afraid to say immigration is a good thing, or to say that Donald Trump is racist, or to admit that we have an economic system that is fundamentally broken for too many people and is breaking our planet too. Those aren't extreme, fringe views. Those are views shared by millions of people across the country who look in despair at the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties.

To take on the forces of nationalism and populism, we need to rally a liberal movement that offers a positive, alternative vision for the kind of country we want to be. One where our economy works for people and our planet, where we work with our closest allies to resolve the climate emergency and keep us safe, and one where no matter who you are, whatever your background, you can access the opportunities you deserve.