Lib Dems could be the big winners from a Johnson premiership

James Gurling

Political reality may be far more favourable to Jo Swinson’s team than is currently recognised.

It’s not unremarkable that the nation’s commentators should focus on the impact of the Conservative leadership election – it is after all about running the country and shaping its destiny.

But there’s every chance that the leadership election that will have the greatest impact on the cadence of British politics will be that which elected the first ever female Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Jo Swinson takes over at the helm of the Liberal Democrats at a pivotal moment both for her Party and for the progressive, pro European, centre-left in British politics.

A quite phenomenal turnaround has been achieved from the disastrous outcome of the 2015 General Election. The 2017 General Election saw an increase in elected MPs (albeit on a slightly lower share of the national vote), while the local elections of this year delivered the Party its largest number of gains with a National Equivalent Vote Share of just under 20%, and the European Parliament Elections increased their representation from one solitary MEP to a full team of 16 and importantly second place in the national vote share, again at around 20%.

The real power that Swinson now wields is as the focal point for Parliamentary concern on Europe.

The Bo-Jetters now sit on a wafer thin majority. In all likelihood this is likely to reduce further when the Liberal Democrats regain the seat of Brecon & Radnorshire in next week’s by-election. While Swinson has become the natural rallying point for the pro-European independents from both the Conservative and Labour parties, it will be the actions and decisions of Conservative remainers that will decide if the Con–DUP administration tips over into ‘minority’ status.

And in that context, the savagery of the Johnson Cabinet cull could be significant. By presenting a uniform team of identikit ‘no dealers’ Johnson has effectively polarised the Conservatives and the Parliamentary arithmetic. While Corbyn’s Labour continues to fail as a meaningful progressive force – mired in antisemitism and uncertainty on Europe – Swinson’s clear call to ‘Stop Brexit’ has developed real cut through with a public tired of being treated to trite soundbites and easy answers.

YouGov revealed yesterday that the proportion of 2017 Conservative voters switching to the Lib Dems has doubled in one week, while Labour has lost 23% of its 2017 vote to the Lib Dems. Since Swinson’s election four days ago, over five thousand people have joined her Party. Many are new to politics, but many more are previously aligned activists seeking a new home where tolerance and progressive politics are practiced.

When the immediate hype of Johnson’s inverted ‘love-island’ reshuffle has subsided, the stark political reality left behind may be far more favourable to Jo Swinson’s team than is currently recognised.