Jo Swinson has been elected as the first female leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Amid predictions of a close run race, Swinson won two thirds of the 76,000 votes to beat Ed Davey and become the youngest current leader of a major UK party.
She takes up the baton from Vince Cable, a man who became leader in 2017 while the Lib Dems were still in the wilderness after the resounding fall from grace following the 2015 general election.
“I stand here not just as the leader of the Liberal Democrats but as a candidate for prime minister,” Swinson said, in an optimistic victory speech echoing the party’s recent revival.
The MP for East Dunbartonshire used her acceptance speech to portray the party as an anti-Brexit, pro-environment stoppage against the “nationalism and populism” sweeping its way through politics.
In an appeal to the disillusioned among incumbent MPs, Swinson urged pro-European factions across the political spectrum that her “door was always open.”
“My message to MPs in other parties who share our values is this: if you believe our country deserves better, that we can stop Brexit, that we can stop Johnson, Farage and Corbyn, then work with us, join us.”
A party in political no man’s land after the coalition government, the Lib Dems have since ignited a popular mandate among pro Europe sections of the electorate. Coupled with Conservative and Labour divisions over Brexit, Britain’s third party has seen a remarkable recovery in recent months.
They finished second in the recent European elections in Britain, harnessing the anti-Brexit sentiment in the face of the Brexit Party’s rapid rise. Insisting on Monday that “liberalism is alive and thriving,” to the audience of the central London cabaret venue today, Swinson decried what she called the “tribalism” of the current political situation.
“The two old parties have failed,” she told supporters, as the Lib Dems try to reposition themselves as the alternative and anti-establishment party.
Cutting an entirely different shape from the Tory and Labour leaders, Swinson will attempt to move forward as the decisive anti-Brexit voice. The “join us” rhetoric in her address signals to the openness and willingness to break partisan lines to halt the country’s exit from the EU.
An MP since 2005, Swinson lost her seat in 2015 to the SNP, before winning it back two years later. After a brief hiatus from politics, she returned as the party’s deputy leader in 2017. During the party’s time in government, Swinson was a senior aide to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
An opponent to the Iraq War and Labour’s proposal to introduce national identity cards, she campaigned against the building of new prisons and called for a “wellbeing index” to be introduced to be compared against GDP.
Photo Credit: Liberal Democrats via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)