Jo Swinson risks becoming the handmaiden of Boris Johnson’s Brexit | Politics News

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The ‘Stop Brexit’ party on Wednesday tried to broaden its pitch with a meaty 96-page manifesto detailing how Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats intend to spend the £50bn ‘remain bonus’ they say is coming our way if we don’t quit the EU.

There would be more free childcare and the money to pay for 20,000 new teachers in our schools. Investment in hospitals and action on climate change.


But when it comes to Ms Swinson, all roads lead to Brexit. Going into this election the Lib Dems were a single issue party – stop Brexit, and the new leader was keen to double down on that message at the manifesto lunch in London where the party is hoping to hoover up pro-Remain seats.

“If you want to stop Boris Johnson. You need to vote for the Lib Dems, we are the only party that can win seats from the Conservatives and deprive them of their majority,” she said.

And she is right that in some Conservative-held seats – from St Ives in the South West, through to Cheltenham, across to St Albans and into Richmond in London – the Lib Dems are the only real contender to turn pro-Brexit seats into Remain strongholds.

But the risk is that by fighting Labour as hard as the Tories, the Lib Dems split the Remain vote in other Tory-Labour marginals and let Mr Johnson through the middle: The politician who says she wants to most stop Brexit becomes the handmaiden for Boris Johnson’s Brexit instead.







Swinson defends standing in Labour-Tory marginals

Ms Swinson says she “fundamentally disagrees” with that analysis. She says Labour are not a party of Remain – despite the official position being to now offer the public a second referendum on the matter – and that it is only her party which can stop Mr Johnson in his tracks.

“We are the party who can take a significant number of seats from Boris Johnson,” she told me in an interview ahead of her manifesto party rally. “No-one seriously thinks Labour are going to make inroads against the Conservatives but the Lib Dems can and the Conservatives are worried about that.”

But, as Professor John Curtice pointed out over the weekend, the split in the Remain vote can only help Mr Johnson. “Labour is significantly at risk of losing votes to the Lib Dems in its northern and midland marginals. That could be enough to deliver the Tories victory even if they fail to win over a single new ex-Labour voter,” he wrote in a column for the Daily Telegraph.

By fighting Labour as hard as the Tories Ms Swinson might end up with the opposite of what she wants – to remain in the EU.

Seats like Canterbury where the Lib Dem candidate Tim Walker decided to stand down, only to be replaced by a different candidate, is a prime example of the dilemma.

Won by Labour in 2017 by just 187 votes, Tories and Labour take 25,000 votes each and the Lib Dems 4,500 votes. Ms Swinson tells me she’d advise Lib Dem voters to stick with her in Canterbury rather than voting for Labour to ensure the constituency returns a pro-Remain MP to parliament.

It is a position that simply doesn’t tally with her overriding principle to stop Brexit. But Ms Swinson is adamant that the Lib Dems fight these seats. “We’re a party standing for liberal values and an inclusive values and an internationalist perspective and people deserve to be able to vote for this in the election.”

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With three weeks to go until polling day, Ms Swinson acknowledges her vote is being squeezed – the Lib Dems dropping eight percentage points to 15 per cent in the polls from the beginning of October – and is perhaps still trying to generate momentum in national polls.

What started out as a four-horse race between the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party is narrowing down into a two-horse one. Nigel Farage’s decision to form a ‘unilateral Leave alliance’ with the Conservatives left his Brexit Party a very depleted force.

Ms Swinson doesn’t want that for her Lib Dems. She knows this election is her big chance to seriously increase her numbers of seats back towards levels seen a decade ago when Cleggmania swept the nation.

However her attention shifted too at her launch towards the Conservatives over Labour. She might not want to admit it, but Mr Corbyn is her best route to stopping Brexit.

But, whisper it, there was a hint from Ms Swinson in our interview that the ‘Remain Alliance’ in 60 seats between the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru, might extend to other seats – informally at least. “I am sure in different seats about the country, different candidates from different parties will make different tactical arrangements.”

This dynamic will be one to watch, because if Ms Swinson and the Lib Dems really do want to stop Brexit, they’ll need to focus all their efforts on taking Tory seats and retreat from the Labour battle lines.

All out war on all fronts for now, but Ms Swinson faces a choice whether to put what she thinks is in the national interest above that of her party before polling day.

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