The Liberal Democrat MP talks to Prospect's Alex Dean about coalitions, Brexit—and cycling with Vince Cableby Alex Dean / September 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Politics, it is often said, is too tribal. With Labour lurching to the left and the Tories speeding off in the other direction, few politicians seem able—or willing—to bridge the party divide, even when doing so is in the national interest. The same is true across the Atlantic, where at a time of great upheaval in the country Washington remains gridlocked. Fruitful collaboration is an increasingly rare thing, and party, not policy, often comes first. At least, that’s how it can seem.
Jo Swinson would have something to say about that. If you want to get things done you simply must “work with other people,” the MP for East Dunbartonshire told me during a recent chat at the Lib Dem Autumn conference in Bournemouth. This is crucial now more than ever: thanks to hard Brexit “a horrendous set of circumstances is about to unfold.” Swinson wants to stop the government in its tracks.
And she has a plan to do so. Over half an hour I was given the Swinson blueprint for a different kind of politics, doing away with the tribal Westminster norm in rather a radical way.
“It’s not like a football team, politics, like ‘your team has to win the cup,’” the 37-year-old told me. “It’s about achieving something else. Your party is not the ends. Your political party is a means to achieving something in the world.”
The Lib Dem decision to enter into a coalition in 2010 is widely viewed as weakening their electoral standing now—but coalition is the logical endpoint of working with your opponents. Would Swinson like her party to form one in future? She left the door open, stating simply: “I believe in cross-party politics.” Are coalitions a sensible form of collaboration? Here the reply was blunt: “Yes.”
The philosophy is clear—but who could Swinson work with under today’s circumstances, on an informal basis? On Brexit, which the Lib Dems fiercely oppose, “Chuka Umunna is a very easy person to work with, Anna Soubry from the Conservative Party, Stephen Gethins from the SNP.”
As for her party’s time in power, Swinson thundered across the table: “I don’t regret it. No. I’m absolutely clear that many of the big decisions [taken in government] we got absolutely right.”
Her comments will infuriate those who view the Lib Dems’…