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JO SWINSON launched the Lib Dem election campaign with a bold claim, saying: “I never thought that I would stand here and say that I’m a candidate to be the prime minister, but when I look at Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn I am absolutely certain I could do a better job than either of them.”
The Lib Dems’ battle bus is painted with the slogan: “Jo Swinson’s Lib Dems” so they seem to think she owns the party.
But does Swinson’s CV make her look like a strong candidate for the job? How does she compare with the other candidates?
I’m not going to make the case for Johnson. I’ll let the vast bulk of the British media try and polish Johnson’s CV but we can make useful comparisons with the other main opposition candidate, Corbyn.
I think it’s important that candidates have belief, imagination and a will to create real change.
Prime ministers doing the “normal” job have taken us into war and austerity. I don’t want to talk down ambition. But they do need to be able to talk about “how.”
The first weakness in Swinson’s application is that she appears to have gone a bit far in the “dress for the job you want,” “give it 110 per cent,” “dare to dream” approach.
Pretending she is on the verge of becoming prime minister, which would take a more than tenfold increase in Lib Dem MPs, is the kind of lack of realism that counts her out from being a candidate for prime minister.
If Swinson can’t tell the difference between 20 MPs and 325 MPs, if she makes basic mathematical errors, what mistakes she would make with the British economy?
But leaving that aside, how does Swinson compare with Corbyn?
A big part of the case for Corbyn is his decades of campaigning — often in the face of the strongest opposition from the press, Tories, Lib Dems and people in his own party, Corbyn has been right.
He has also — this is sometimes missed — helped lead very successful campaigns. He has a record of not just being right, when so many other people were wrong, but also effective.
Corbyn was a big supporter of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. Most Labour MPs opposed the poll tax, but also opposed the vast grassroots campaign of resistance, demonstration and non-payment.
Corbyn did right on the poll tax and was right. The campaign he assisted won and brought down Thatcher in the process.
Corbyn also heavily supported smaller campaigns that looked hard to win, like the fight of the Guildford Four to prove they were innocent and had been fitted up for IRA bombings of which they were entirely innocent. Corbyn was proved right.
Perhaps the biggest campaign he was involved in was against the Iraq war. Corbyn’s involvement in Stop the War Coalition is a big reason he is Labour leader.
The campaign did not win, but it was enormous, it was proved right, and did at least shift the political dial away from the war on terror invasions and injustices.
But Swinson has been a campaigner too. For the past nine years she has led a vigorous campaign against excessive packaging on Easter eggs. So in 2010 Britain was shaken by this news story.
“A survey of 12 leading Easter eggs by Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP, found many eggs were still sold in enormous boxes, with an extravagant use of plastic.”
Swinson is a dogged campaigner. Only last year, she released an “exclusive report into the use of excess packaging in the presentation of Easter eggs.”
So, in fairness, we have to balance Corbyn’s campaigning for economic justice, to free people from prison and against war with Swinson’s Easter-egg-wrapping initiative.
We should look at how they have led their parties. Under Corbyn’s lead, Labour has more than doubled the party’s membership, creating a 500,000-strong mass organisation.
In the 2017 election Corbyn did not win, but he led a great increase in Labour’s vote (from 29 per cent to 40 per cent), adding 30 Labour MPs and taking away Theresa May’s majority.
Swinson was in the Lib Dem leadership as it entered a coalition with the Tories in 2010, which then reduced the Lib Dems from 57 MPs in 2010 to just 12 MPs in 2017.
Swinson has managed to increase that to 20 MPs, but only because five Tory and three Labour MPs defected. She is still growing the party by recruiting Tories, even though the 2020 coalition with the Tories almost killed the party.
Swinson is ahead of Jeremy in one area: she has been a minister. But she was a minister in a Tory-led government, doing Tory things.
She publicly supported moves by the Justice Department to limit workers rights to go to employment tribunals.
First she supported excluding anyone with less than two years in the job from making unfair dismissal claims.
She then publicly supported the introduction of £1,200 charges on workers for the privilege of attending an employment tribunal.
Swinson praised the plan in Parliament, saying: “Claimants now have to pay a fee to bring an employment tribunal case. Fees will help claimants consider whether alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as the free conciliation service provided by Acas, would be more appropriate for resolving their workplace disputes.”
In 2017 the Supreme Court decided Swinson’s fees scheme “prevents access to justice and is therefore unlawful.”
The judges agreed with the long-running legal case brought by trade union Unison, which argued that the number of people going to tribunals had dropped by 79 per cent because people were being priced out of justice.
The government cancelled Swinson’s fees and agreed to pay back the £32 million wrongly charged to workers who made it through the maze.
Swinson has subsequently claimed she fought the nasty fees scheme “tooth and nail.” But the parliamentary record shows she did the opposite in public.
So Swinson’s ministerial record shows she will cut workers’ rights so badly even judges get angry, then say afterwards she did the opposite.
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