The beauty of Bath shone on a scorching June day. Walking up the hill to the King Edward School, the city rolled down as a majestic backdrop. Orange diamonds with the words STOP BREXIT, lit up the path to the location of the event. It was the Liberal Democrat leadership hustings between Jo Swinson and Ed Davey.
I signed in and made my way to the hall where the debate would take place. The chairs were already filled up with eager members waiting to hear from the leadership hopefuls. I found a space near the back and was joined by South Gloucestershire members Claire Young, Ben Nutland and enthusiastic new member Philippa, who was keen to get involved in party activities. Ben congratulated me on my new book and asked me how it was doing. “I enjoyed writing it,” I told him, “though I’m happy to be involved in politics again.”
A hush blanketed the conversations of the liberals, as Jo and Ed took to the stage. The chair of the proceedings explained that each candidate would get a chance to give an opening and closing statement, with questions from the audience making up the middle of the debate.
I wanted to give both a fair hearing. I leaned forward on the edge of my seat in anticipation.
Jo started her case by recalling the worst day of her life. It wasn’t the day after the 2015 General Election, where her and her husband had both lost their seats. Parents of a young child who had lost their employment might’ve been the worst day for some but not for Jo. Her worst day was June 24th, 2016. The day where Leave had won the referendum with 51.9% of the vote.
This fired up Jo and she knew that she had to get back into politics and fight for the values she held closest to her heart. Three years later she was an MP once again, setting out her plans for the party and country in a leadership contest.
Her vision is to build an economy that put people and the planet first. To make use of technology to revolutionise Britain’s future. And to lead a liberal movement to stand up against the rise of populism and nationalism. With experience in government as a Business Minister and serving as the deputy leader for the party, she was ready to lead.
Ed also had bags of experience. He served as the Energy Secretary during the Coalition days, and the plans he had set for the party reflected his experience in the role. Decarbonise capitalism was the pitch he made to the audience, of how Britain needed to be a major player on tackling the climate crisis.
Both were fierce advocates for our membership of the European Union. Ed was in favour of exploring legal parliamentary measures on how Brexit could be stopped or delayed. Jo spoke about working with parties on all side of the house, to get the numbers to agree on a People’s Vote. They also agreed that the dialogue would need to change if there was any chance of winning the People’s Vote. There is no point trying to convince the public to continue our membership with dry economic facts. We had to appeal to the heart. The beacon of hope and peace that the EU represents.
It was hard to separate the candidates by this point. Each were excellent MPs and bought a lot to the table. The heat in the packed hall began to rise. Both in temperature and debate.
Jo then made a critical point.
For too long, the Liberal Democrats had been ignored by the media. The recent popularity surge in the local and European elections had made the media take notice once again. Jo said it was important that the leader capitalised on this opportunity, to make the Liberal Democrats a force to be reckoned with. Jo said she was the person for the job because just this week she had been on Newsnight, Question Time, the Today programme twice, LBC, Radio 2, Talk Radio, BBC News, C4 News, 5Live, GMB and BBC Breakfast with an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show the next day.
The public want to hear from Jo Swinson!
The audience then asked the candidates how they would address the critical state of social care. Jo suggested that technology could play a huge role in the future of strained sectors such as social care. With the advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, it would free up potential workers to be trained in areas that required the human touch. Instead of carers having to rush through their tasks, they could have the needed resources to deliver proper care. Jo’s forward thinking and goal to harness technology to improve people’s lives impressed me greatly.
During the closing comments, I thought about how the Liberal Democrats had recently topped the opinion polls. How crucial this leadership contest was; to build on this momentum. Jo had the vision, the empathy and the inspiration to be the leader of not only the Liberal Democrats, but the leader of Britain’s liberal movement.
I knew I had to vote for Jo Swinson.
After the hustings came to an end, the audience left the hall with a lot to think about. I waited in a queue of members for a chance to speak to Jo. I was joined by my good friend, Andrew Brown, who proudly wore his “Bollocks to Brexit” top. He revealed he was also going to vote for the East Dunbartonshire MP.
As I got to the front, a young woman named Rose chatted to Jo with nervous excitement. She revealed she had joined the party only yesterday, so she could vote for her. I had heard similar things online about young people, not necessarily Liberal Democrats, expressing their elation of Jo standing in the race. There was no question, Jo was the person to unite people behind our cause and lead our party to success.
When I got my chance to speak to Jo, I managed to say, “thank you for running.”