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Meet Jo Swinson, the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats

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Christobel Hastings
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Jo Swinson has been elected the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats in its 31-year history. But who is the MP for East Dunbartonshire, and how will she change UK politics?

After a hotly anticipated leadership contest, Jo Swinson has been announced as the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats in its 31-year history after receiving an overwhelming majority of 65% of the vote.

“Liberalism is alive and thriving,” Swinson told the crowd after her victory over rival Sir Ed Davey was announced. “As your leader I will do whatever it takes to stop Brexit. It’s the Liberal Democrats who can lead the renewal that our country needs.”

Hailed as part of a new generation of politicians working across party lines to “solve the big issues facing the UK and the world”, the MP for East Dunbartonshire has enervated UK politics with her passionate protests, equality measures, and campaigns for a second EU referendum. But who is Jo Swinson, and how will she change UK politics?

New Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson waves on stage at an event announcing the result of the leadership contest

Who is Jo Swinson?

Jo Swinson is currently serving as the MP for East Dunbartonshire and the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Born in the west coast of Scotland, Swinson attended a local comprehensive in the town of Milngavie. She showed political promise at a young age, signing petitions to stop cosmetic testing on animals, and campaigning for environmental protections.

At the age of 17, Swinson joined the Liberal Democrats, and soon after gained a place at the London School of Economics to study management. After graduating with a first class degree, Swinson worked at a radio station in Hull before embarking upon a career in politics.

Aged just 21, Swinson unsuccessfully contested John Prescott’s parliamentary in Hull East, but the young politician wasn’t discouraged. Four years later at the age of 25, she was elected as the youngest member of the House of Commons, having become the first ever Liberal Democrat to represent her home constituency of East Dunbartonshire.

In her first five years as an MP, Swinson held a range of shadow spokeswoman posts in the departments of culture, women and equalities, and foreign affairs. In 2010, under the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition government, she became parliamentary private secretary to Sir Vince Cable, the outgoing leader of the party, and served in the same capacity for then-party leader Nick Clegg. 

In 2012, Swinson finally gained a ministerial role when she was appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, and later on, she became Women and Equalities Minister.

Swinson lost her seat in the 2015 general election, but returned to Westminster in the 2017 snap general election, when she went on to become the party’s Deputy Leader. Currently, Swinson is the party’s Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in addition to her duties as MP for East Dunbartonshire.

Jo Swinson speaking at the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto launch for the European Elections in London

What does Jo Swinson stand for?

Swinson is the leading Liberal Democrat in the People’s Vote campaign, and is a staunch critic of Brexit. She has campaigned to keep the UK in the European Union, fostered relationships with cross-party groups such as More United and Better Together, and has stated in the past that  “every Liberal Democrat vote is a vote to stop Brexit.”

The issue of environmental justice is also a key policy for Swinson. In 2007, she tabled a parliamentary bill aimed at reduce excessive food, and secured support from manufacturers such as Nestle and Cadbury. Recently, she protested the climate emergency alongside the environmentalist group Extinction Rebellion, which des described as a “vital movement.”

As Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Swinson also introduced a range of measures aimed at protecting both workers and consumers, such as shared parental leave, gender pay gap reporting, and extended flexible working rights. In 2018, Swinson made history when she became the first MP to bring a baby into the House of Commons during a debate on giving proxy votes to politicians on maternity or paternity leave.

Swinson also set up the APPG on Wellbeing Economics, where she successfully introduced new wellbeing considerations for policies on employment relations and corporate governance, as well as securing funding for the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson speaks at a rally organised by the pro-European People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum in Parliament Square

How will Jo Swinson change UK politics?

When announcing her candidacy Swinson said: “This country is crying out for a liberal movement that will challenge the forces of nationalism and populism. The Liberal Democrats need to be at the heart of that movement and I’m the person to lead it”.

The Lib Dem leader has also pledged to build an economy that considers both people and the planet, support a technological revolution, and “rally a liberal movement to stand up for our values.”

It’s expected that Swinson will continue campaigning to keep the UK in Europe and support another referendum, champion climate change action, and work towards delivering improved wellbeing considerations. 

Images: Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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