Recess has begun, Red Box is taking a break, and Jeremy Corbyn is off on his rally tour; it must be summer. Every year, Conservative MP Keith Simpson publishes a summer reading list for MPs so while Boris tours the Union, and Phil plots with Keir, we thought we’d put out some personalised suggestions for reading material. Jo Swinson hasn’t got much on her plate, what with being the newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, mother to two children, and all-round hard worker. So, in a bid to save her some time, we thought we’d put together some reading suggestions for those long commutes from Westminster to her constituency in East Dunbartonshire.
The Lib Dems have taken Brecon (just). A victory which further suggests the #LibDemFightBack might be real, even if (say it quietly) the Brexit Party did a stellar job of splitting the Leave vote. In the end, it was the non-aggression pact wot won it! And it might be in the future, too. A leaked People’s Vote document shows plans for the biggest campaign of tactical voting ever planned. However, making this work nationally without losing party identity is a challenge the Lib Dems know well. It will certainly be a challenge. And potentially soon. With the Brexit Party lining up candidates for a general election, battle will commence far beyond the hills of Brecon. Uniting the country is a tough ask. Just ask Theresa May. Or Jeremy Corbyn. Or David Cameron. Or, maybe don’t. Instead, read How To Be Right In A World Gone Wrong (2018) and find out from LBC’s James O’Brien since he seems to be constantly coordinating and moderating the whole motley lot of us on his radio show.
Brexit will eventually end though (can you hear the desperation?) and, when it does, This Changes Everything (2014) by Naomi Klein should be everybody’s guide to the climate emergency. Recently, 71% of us chose the climate as a more pressing issue than Brexit (tough choice, I know). Jo already does a rather champion job of talking about rewiring our economy to work for both people and planet – radical, eh? – so Klein’s hefty tome will be more of some light brushing up on facts and figures. Still, her childhood hero Anita Roddick would be proud. It’s a chance too for the Lib Dems to find common cause with the Greens again and cancel out some of that division at the polls, but sorry Jeremy, not with you. After all, with the Brexit Party and Conservatives acting like coy dance partners, and Labour still sat on the edge of the room waiting to be asked, who knew electoral pacts could be so much fun?
Gauging the mood in Westminster might be the easier part. Labour accused Swinson of “childish and irresponsible game playing” when she tabled her symbolic motion of no confidence recently. So maybe she could brush up on how they did it back in the day by way of This House (2012) by James Graham. Strictly a play, it covers Labour’s 1974-9 administration, facing first a hung parliament and then a slender majority; remind you of anyone? As LBJ so famously said, practitioners of politics ‘need to be able to count’.
Talk of the whips and politics’ daily machinations might bring back memories of the *shudder* Coalition. If the Lib Dems want to leave it behind then After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain (2011) by Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore, and Liz Truss will provide some handy reading seeing as four of the authors are now all in the Cabinet. Peak Bullshit (2017) by Evan Davis might provide a few hints and tips on how Swinson can wheel and deal her way through all those questions about her role in austerity too.
But where’s my optimism I hear you cry? Where’s the boosterism? We must look forward, be positive! Just in case, though…As leader of a minor party, it’s good to know how to fail, and Fintan O’Toole’s Heroic Failure: Brexit and the politics of pain (2018) provides some history lessons too on our ‘hugely successful empire’, much like that aforementioned hugely successful coalition... A primer on English nationalism, it will be mighty useful for door-knocking with those voters to whom nationhood truly is important. Johnson might be busy trampling over Irish and Scottish feelings (read: whipping them up) but Swinson has form in meeting nationalist sentiment head-on and argues strongly that the Lib Dems offer voters a double dose of Remain – once for Europe, and once for the Union. Come on, we’re not done with all that medieval talk of vassalage just yet, are we?
Finally, Swinson could do worse than leafing through Be More Pirate (2018), a book on rewriting the outdated rules of the 21st century. Swinson certainly has the wind in her sails when it comes to challenging the traditional image of our political leaders. Author, Sam Conniff, says the book is ‘about fearlessly challenging the broken systems that benefit the few and, in their place, delivering new ideas that serve the many.’ Sounds pretty Lib Dem to me. And if you’re a pirate, you need a crew, right Heidi?
Swinson has rightly said she will not put any limit on her party’s ambition. And why should she? The worst that can happen already has and the party’s recent resurgence means the Lib Dem MPs can no longer car-pool home together in an Uber. That said, challenges remain, not least what’s next for the party if the results are disappointing, or if an election throws up the question once more of coalition and compromise? As Donald Rumsfield said:
“First rule of politics: you can’t win unless you’re on the ballot. If you run, you may lose. And if you tie, you do not win.”