It’s fair to say I’m not enjoying the current British general election campaign, especially not with Boris Johnson’s Conservatives showing a consistent and sizeable lead in the opinion polls – a whopping 19% lead over the Labour Party according to the latest Opinium poll commissioned by the Observer newspaper. I mean, for God’s sake. It’s Boris Johnson. A man with a proven record of being a liar, a racist and an idiot. Donald Trump’s comedy English butler. And yet a majority of the Great British public are willing to entrust him again with the keys to Number 10. Is the country being swept by a virus that turns people’s brains to mince?
Still, the campaign has had one silver lining. It’s shown Jo Swinson, who’s been Member of Parliament for Dunbartonshire East for 12 of the last 14 years and who became leader of the Liberal Democrats amid much fanfare in July this year, to be a busted flush.
Swinson belongs to the political tradition of former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg – and by extension that of Tony Blair, David Cameron and George Osborne. It’s the tradition of the privileged and entitled, the oily and smooth, the professional politicians and suited technocrats whose unspoken maxims are “We know best” and “Leave everything to us.” Osborne referred to practitioners of this particular style of politics as ‘The Guild’ and it was nicely described by commentator Chris Deerin in a piece in the Sunday Post last weekend: “These guys were masters of the soundbite, of the polished promise that was in reality no such thing… They operated to a kind of professional political code: pledge A, which voters liked, when you really intended to deliver B, which they were less keen on; spin the media; control and beguile the national debate. Calculation, misdirection, cynicism.”
Swinson, who graduated from the London School of Economics in 2000, who was running for parliament as early as 2001, and whose real-life (i.e. non-political) working experience was restricted to a couple of years in marketing and public relations, obviously believed her destiny wasn’t to remain among the ranks of the great unwashed but to rule over them with the same glib condescension as Blair, Cameron and co. Predictably, there have been massive disconnections between the platitudes that have come out of her mouth and the things she’s actually done in her political career. Yet we, the oiks, are supposed to be too dazzled by her rhetoric, too awed by her wonderfulness or just too thick to notice.
In the run-up to this election she’s positioned the Liberal Democrats as the great anti-Brexit party. Indeed, she’s declared that they would cancel Article 50 and do away with Brexit altogether. How ironic, then, that she served as Under-Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs in the coalition government that her then-leader Nick Clegg formed with David Cameron in 2010. Clegg, Swinson and their Liberal Democrat comrades enabled Cameron to become Prime Minister and his premiership resulted in the Brexit referendum six years later. They also played a role in implementing Cameron’s policies of austerity that, by 2016, had left a large part of the population so disgruntled that they voted for Brexit as a way of raising a middle finger to the establishment.
Incidentally, back in 2008, Swinson declared in Parliament that her party “would like to have a referendum on the major issue of whether we are in or out of Europe,” which also makes a nonsense of her stance on the issue now.
Her record during the Cameron-Clegg coalition makes damning reading – especially for someone who spoke to the Guardian at the start of this year about how “we need to radically change things and have much more equality.” She refused to ban zero-hour contracts and was reluctant about increasing the minimum wage. She supported the massive increase in university tuition fees even though, famously, her party had previously vowed not to increase them. Welfare cuts, the bedroom tax, reducing corporation tax – she backed them all. And the enthusiasm she expressed in the Mail on Sunday last year about erecting a statue of Margaret Thatcher in Parliament Square doesn’t suggest someone with much respect for ‘equality’, either.
She’s yakked on about introducing green taxes and promoting energy conservation. Yet as her Wikipedia entry notes, her environmental credentials are tarnished by the fact that between 2017 and 2018 she “received political funding from Mark Petterson, the director of Warwick Energy Ltd, which has fracking licences across England” and she “has also voted against plans to ban fracking in the UK.”
Mind you, I don’t think the earth’s environment can be that important to Swinson, given her recent professed keenness for launching nuclear missiles, vaporising tens of thousands of people and damning hundreds of thousands of others to lingering deaths from radiation sickness – and presumably triggering a nuclear winter that’d hardly help the planet’s wellbeing. “Would you ever be prepared to use a nuclear weapon?” an interviewer asked her. “Yes,” she replied without an iota of hesitation. Swinson, of course, is eager to tilt her party towards the right in the hope she can hoover up a few votes among Brexit-opposing Conservatives. Hence her nuclear machismo, her presenting of herself as ‘Killer Jo’.
Actually, should Boris Johnson and his party find themselves short of an overall majority in the next parliament, it wouldn’t surprise me if Swinson follows the example of her old master Nick Clegg and plugs the Liberal Democrats into another coalition with the Tories. We don’t get a Bojo government then, but a Bo / Jo one.
A fair number of jibes have been fired at Swinson about things such as her manner (which is like that of the officious, full-of-herself prefect or head girl who used to get on your wick at school) and her accent (which is sometimes weirdly anonymous and at other times sounds like Miss Jean Brodie gargling phlegm). This has prompted some of her supporters to complain that people only make nasty remarks about her because she’s a woman. Well, for me, it isn’t a matter of sexism. I dislike her almost as much as I dislike Johnson not because she’s a woman but because she’s a patronising shyster with the disreputable track record that I’ve described in the paragraphs above. Incidentally, female politicians like Diane Abbot and Nicola Sturgeon have received industrial amounts of abuse on social media over the years but I can’t remember any of Swinson’s defenders expressing indignation about that.
Anyway, even though it became airborne only four months ago, the Swinson bubble seems to be bursting already. Her party have sunk in the opinion polls and she was dreadful on the BBC’s party-leaders’ edition of Question Time last Thursday, which is ironic considering that she’d threatened legal action against ITV when they’d excluded her from their debate, and limited it to Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, a few days earlier.
As one wit commented on Twitter following the Swinson meltdown, “Lib-Dems now considering legal action against the BBC for allowing Jo Swinson to take part in tonight’s debate.”