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Everything that was missing from Jo Swinson’s Lib Dem conference speech

UK News | Published:

Some people and topics were conspicuous by their absence.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson

Jo Swinson earned a number of standing ovations for what she said in her closing speech to the Liberal Democrat party conference.

But there were a few things she failed to mention as she made her first major pitch to the party since taking the reins.

– A second referendum

Referendum rally
A sign held by an attendee during a People’s Vote rally at New Dock Hall in Leeds (Danny Lawson/PA)

The headlines from the conference focused on the shift in policy on Brexit, with members backing a move to cancel leaving the European Union without a referendum.

Lib Dem MPs have responded to criticism that the stance is undemocratic by insisting that a second referendum – or People’s Vote, as it is known – would still be their preferred outcome.

Yet a push for a second referendum was not mentioned once in the 45-minute speech, despite a spokesman for the ex-minister telling the media that Lib Dem support for a People’s Vote has been “consistent”.

Ms Swinson is making it clearer than ever that the policy of revoking Article 50 is to be used as a yardstick against Remain-supporting parties, which continue to back another referendum, when the public next go to the polls.

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Their message: why risk another Leave vote at a second referendum when a Lib Dem government would cancel the whole Brexit business the minute Prime Minister Jo Swinson crosses the Downing Street threshold?

– Ex-leader Sir Nick Clegg

Sir Nick Clegg
Sir Nick Clegg, former Lib Dem leader (PA)

Ms Swinson offered lengthy praise for three of her predecessors, Sir Vince Cable, Tim Farron and Lord Paddy Ashdown, who was paid tribute to at the conference after his death in December.

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She lauded Mr Farron for committing the party to Remain even after the 2016 referendum result, saying he was “absolutely right” to ensure the Lib Dems “unashamedly” made the case for Britain staying in the European Union.

The East Dunbartonshire MP called Sir Vince, who she replaced as leader, “the voice of reason in these unreasonable times” and mourned the loss of “our dear friend Paddy”, who led the party for more than a decade.

Yet the man who brought the Lib Dems to power in 2010 and helped promote Ms Swinson to employment minister in 2012 did not get a single mention.

A spokesman for the party leader said nothing should be read into the omittance, but the failure to mention Sir Nick Clegg continues to highlight Lib Dem unease around its coalition record.

– Something new – or something borrowed?

Adern wellbeing
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has introduced a wellbeing budget in New Zealand (Mike Egerton/PA)

Party officials were heavily spinning Ms Swinson’s comments on introducing a “wellbeing” budget as a brand new announcement before she took to the stage – that was another thing missing – a lectern.

The trouble was it had been revealed by her deputy, Sir Ed Davey, a day previously.

She referenced that Jacinda Ardern’s government in New Zealand had introduced citizen happiness measurements when discussing the policy but Ms Swinson failed to give credit to parties much closer to home – the UK Labour Party and Green Party.

Both have already announced they would look to bring in policies that improved public satisfaction levels rather than simply focusing on economic growth – in fact, the Greens confirmed the details almost a year ago at their 2018 autumn conference.

– The coalition years

Clegg Cameron
The Lib Dems were in coalition with the Tories for five years between 2010 and 2015 (Chris J Ratcliffe/PA)

Commentators might expect plenty of references to past records in power from a politician touting themselves as the next prime minister.

But in a 4,000-word speech, only three sentences were dedicated to talking up the Lib Dem successes in coalition.

Free school meals, shared parental leave, same-sex marriage and extra mental health care provision were all highlighted by Ms Swinson – who was on the front bench during three of the five powersharing years – but that was all the reminiscing she would afford.

With her record during the coalition years being used by Labour to criticise Ms Swinson, a policy of forget and renew seems to be the order of the day.

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