Wednesday 24 July 2019

Jo Swinson- an open letter of welcome

Dear Jo Swinson,

Congratulations on winning the leadership of our party by a majority of two to one (or nearly).  The press acknowledge your enthusiasm and communication skills, and I hope they will be effective, especially in attracting young and idealistic campaigners.

There are one or two things in your opening remarks as leader on which I'd like to offer some  notes of caution.

First, you invite existing Labour and Conservative MPs to come and join us.  Fine if they immediately resign tier seats and fight as Liberal Democrats to regain them.  If they don't then their present constituents, and especially those who actively campaigned for and financed them, will justifiably feel cheated.   Swapping parties without confirmation by the electorate leads to even further distrust of and cynicism about our politics when we need the reverse.

Admittedly now that we have accepted Chuka Umunna into our ranks without a by-election it will be difficult to insist on that provision for others.  Therefore, in the interim, I suggest that we invite potential defectors to remain with their existing parties, but to vote with us on all matters concerning Brexit.  Then, if their parties expel them, they can fight as Liberal Democrats in the General Election which will probably ensue.

Secondly  be careful of offering Liberal Democrat membership to any Tom, Dick or Mary just because they are in favour of our continued membership of the EU.  We need also to know that they share most of our Liberal values.  At least one of the ChangeUK MPs (I think it is Anna Soubry) was even keener on the shameful and unnecessary austerity cuts than Danny Alexander and David Laws.  The neocons have already done enough damage to our party, heir to that of Beveridge and Keynes, without adding to their number.

Thirdly, you are reported as saying that you will not form a coalition with either Mr Corbyn or Mr Johnson.  I sympathise in relation to Johnson though I suspect your are accepting the right-wing press's demonisation of Corbyn rather than the real thing.  But it is not up to us to choose the leaders of other parties: stick to policies, not personalities.

Fourthly, you seem keen to co-operate with other parties and that is sensible, even inevitable, for a party that believes in proportional representation by singly transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.  But do be careful to deliniate carefully what we will and won't support in any agreement or coalition.  That was the mistake we made in 2010: "We must support everything -we can't pick and choose."  We need to define  categories: what we will support and campaign for;  what we can't support but will offer "confidence and supply";  on what we choose to offer alternatives,:and  what we will oppose both in public, parliament and in the voting lobbies.  These categories are discussed in more detail in Liberator 365.

Finally, don't be bounced into some sort of agreement or coalition in haste because of some sort of perceived crisis (as happened in 2010).  Continental democracies can take weeks if not months to form partnerships.

You take over the party when the tide is moving, indeed has moved, in our favour. 

The best of luck.

Peter Wrigley
Member since the early 1960s

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