Who is Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrats’ latest leadership contender?

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Lauren Geall
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Jo Swinson looking up at the camera

Swinson has joined the race to become the next Liberal Democrat leader alongside former energy secretary Sir Ed Davey. But who is she, and what does she stand for?

While we’ve all been paying attention to the fierce leadership contest currently underway within the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats are having a contest of their own.

And it might be time to pay attention; a new opinion poll shows the Lib Dems as the top choice among UK voters, with 24% saying they would vote for the party if a general election was held immediately.

In comparison to the Brexit party at 22% and the Conservatives and Labour at 19% each, that makes the Lib Dems one to watch as they replace their current leader Sir Vince Cable. 

Jo Swinson alongside current party leader Vince Cable
Jo Swinson alongside current party leader Vince Cable

So far, only two potential candidates have stepped forward, former energy secretary Sir Ed Davey and deputy party leader Jo Swinson, who announced her intention on Thursday evening’s episode of the BBC’s Question Time.

“I will set out my plans but I happen to think that this country is crying out for a liberal movement that will challenge the forces of nationalism and populism,” she told the audience. “The Liberal Democrats need to be at the heart of that movement and I’m the person to lead it.”

Swinson is officially launching her campaign today – so here’s everything you need to know. 

Who is Jo Swinson?

Jo Swinson has been the Member of Parliament for East Dunbartonshire twice – she was first elected in 2005, but was defeated by the SNP in 2015, only to reclaim the seat in the 2017 snap election.

She was elected unopposed as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in 2017, and has held the office ever since, as well as being her party’s Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Throughout her career she has also held a number of other positions, including Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Scotland.

Between 2012-2015 she was also junior Equalities Minister. 

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What does she stand for?

Jo’s campaign is led by three key goals she wants to achieve if elected leader of the party.

Firstly, she says she wants to “build an economy that puts people and the planet first,” by focusing on solving key challenges such as the climate emergency, rising inequality and the ageing population by choosing not to put GDP above the interests of the people. This isn’t the first time Swinson has challenged the use of GDP to measure national success; in 2008, she called for a “wellbeing index” to be introduced in comparison to GDP, to recognise the lack of increase in people’s wellbeing across the country.

She’s also championing the use of technology to solve problems across the country. On her campaign website, she explains how the “tech revolution” is an enormous opportunity for the country, but says she wants to make sure technology works for the people - not just corporate organisations. Good stuff.

Finally, her final goal and the big message behind her campaign is to rally a liberal movement by taking advantage of the “wave of liberalism” which is driving many people’s desire to stop Brexit.

“Now more than ever it is time for serious politics of compassion and co-operation,” her website reads. “We need leaders that stand up for our values and against the forces of populism and nationalism.”

In her previous position as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations, Consumer and Postal Affairs, Jo introduced, amongst other things, shared parental leave, extended flexible working rights, and fought for the introduction of gender pay gap reporting.

Jo Swinson speaking at the Liberal Democrats European Elections Manifesto launch
Jo Swinson speaking at the Liberal Democrats European Elections Manifesto launch

What else do we know?

After she was beaten to her seat in 2015, Swinson used her time off to start a business and write a book about gender equality.

Her first novel, Equal Power: Gender Equality and How to Achieve It, looks at gender inequality across society, and how we can all work to make change.

In her personal life, Swinson is a keen runner, and has competed in the Loch Ness Marathon, the Stirling Scottish Marathon and the London Marathon.

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She is married to former Liberal Democrat MP Duncan Hames, and the pair have two children – during her first pregnancy, controversy emerged after she was forced to stand for twenty minutes in the House of Commons when no one offered her a seat.

This led to a political debate about whether it was sexist to offer a pregnant woman a seat – Swinson herself later made clear that she didn’t think it was sexist, “and part of life’s little courtesies”.

Images: Getty