Politics now is fractured. At home and abroad, we’re seeing the rising tide of nationalism and populism. Whether it is Trump or Putin abroad or Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage at home, our political order is increasingly dominated by forces who seek to divide us. Forces that believe a better future lies through closing ourselves off from the world, blaming those who are different and stoking hate and division in order to win.
In other times, it would be the Labour Party who would be the home for those seeking to stand up to the likes of Boris Johnson, but under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour are simply missing in action.
From Jeremy Corbyn going on holiday during the referendum campaign, to his refusal to back a People’s Vote, to their total failure to tackle the scourge of anti-semitism that infects their party, Labour are not fit for purpose. They are letting down the millions of people who are desperately in need of a political force to oppose the Tories’ damaging Brexit, which would also put Scotland’s place in the UK at risk.
But all is not lost. The answer to nationalism is liberalism. The rise of populism has steadily coalesced movements of millions of people around its divisive us-against-them rhetoric, motivating so many more people to become active political campaigners and party members to champion the case for liberal democracy.
It’s why I’ve put myself forward to be leader of the Liberal Democrats. I want to lead the Liberal Democrats so that we can build a movement to stand up to those nationalist forces and stop Brexit, then transform our broken economy so that it is focused on the long term and works for both people and our planet, tackling poverty and averting climate crisis. Those might sound like big challenges, but I’ve never shied away from a challenge.
Growing up, my dad would always tell me that if I’m not happy with something I need to change it. As a child visiting The Body Shop I got my first taste of activism, signing petitions on fair trade or the environment while buying my strawberry soap. It was that same passion that led me to try, aged nine, to convince my dad to vote Green at the European elections. Looking back, he was, of course, right that the Liberal Democrats were a better bet, combining green policies with wider issues. But I also believe that nine-year old me was right, that if we didn’t act urgently to stop global warming, nothing else would matter, because our planet would be uninhabitable.
Tackling the climate emergency is one of the reasons why I wanted to get back into politics. But it wasn’t the biggest one. That motivation came on what remains the worst day of my political life, the morning of 24 June 2016, waking up to the news that the UK had voted to leave the EU. I remember watching Nigel Farage on TV bragging that they’d won without a bullet being fired – and I just felt sick. Just eight days earlier, Jo Cox had been shot and stabbed, simply for standing up for what she believed in.
It was a sign of how far our politics had slid, that he could say something so crass and offensive. But then this is the man who stood in front of that vile Breaking Point poster, designed to spread hate and division in our communities.
So when the snap election was called in 2017, I knew I had to stand again, win my seat back and take the fight to the forces of nationalism and populism that Nigel Farage represented. I believe that a new generation of leadership can transform Britain’s future.The rising forces of nationalism and populism, our passion to keep Scotland in the UK and the UK in Europe, and the possibilities of new technologies to change society for the better, give Liberal Democrats an opportunity to change politics for the better.
Look no further than an opinion poll last week, which showed that a Liberal Democrat party led by me would secure 30 per cent of the vote across the UK, and beat a Johnson-led Tory party and a Corbyn-led Labour party. I have no limit for the ambitions of the Liberal Democrats, and while the challenges facing the country are great, it is in times of great disruption that we can make the most important changes to our society.
We can take big steps to tackle the climate emergency. We can reshape our economy so that it values people as human beings, not just financial data. We can harness the technological advances which are already changing our work lives to improve our society, our schools and our hospitals. We can bring about electoral reform which delivers a better, more plural politics, allows everyone’s voice to be heard, and would bring some reason to a deeply polarised and febrile debate. I’ve spent my life campaigning passionately for the things I believe in.
Whether that’s advocating for the environment, equality, responsible business and keeping Scotland in the UK and the UK in Europe, I’m keen to get things done. Now is the time for the Liberal Democrats to do exactly that.
Jo Swinson is MP for East Dunbartonshire and deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats