The victory for Jo Swinson in the Liberal Democrats leadership contest was widely predicted. Labour and its lieutenants launched into criticism with worrying parallels. But this informal campaign can only end in more tears and splits.

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First published in July 2019.

There were complaints being muttered that the Liberal Democrats leadership contest was being ignored. It’s a similar complaint to the prejudged moans and groans heard on the day of anti-Brexit marches. “I haven’t seen a single minute of coverage on the BBC!” splutters Brian from Hemel Hempstead, whose talent for awareness is only surpassed by his loyalty to wearing corduroy. Tweets are clearly saved in drafts for any such occasion where movements are ‘apparently’ not getting any attention – save for a helicopter and first billing on the ten o’clock news.

I’d argue the Lib Dems received a reasonable amount of coverage, perhaps more than any previous attention given to the party. Maybe their recent successes have compelled people to prick up their ears – or should that be Labour/Tory failures? Mr Big Boss at the BBC is always bogged down by suggestions of bias; Remain or Leave, pro-Tory or Blairite. He’s obviously got a rotating wheel with agendas spinning around for him to launch his throwing knife – with Nicholas Witchell gracefully pushing the wheel backwards.

I say ‘Mr Big Boss’ because a lot has been made of the Lib Dems electing a woman to lead the party. It’s definitely a good thing. A woman at the head of a prominent political party – bit of a milestone surely? But the biggest challenge to Jo Swinson came from the Labour Party, with an unnaturally arranged campaign of blame. The party’s official Twitter shared a video they created detailing all the horrors that Swinson was part of.

Swap out Jo Swinson for Ilhan Omar or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and you’ve got a solid effort from Trump and his goons. Head of goons in this particular act of spiteful grandstanding was Ian Lavery, Labour Party chairman and political minecart. Clearly someone from Southside had their WhatsApp fingers tip-tapping to the erotic spresm emanating from the Lib Dems.

But this campaign of denouncement is more important than just the usual Westminster tug-of-wars. A planned and deliberate criticism launched at the newly elected leader of a party which is leeching Labour exiles. That person at Southside must have been directing all the rhetoric from a pram to have thrown their toys out with such gusto.

I’ve argued previously that Labour is making a big mistake through its criticism of the Lib Dems. Considering the thousands who have left the party (dipping the membership numbers below half a million) have gone due to the hellscape of Labour factionalism, is it wise to send a message to those people that they’re happy to see them leave? Or are indifferent to the reasons for their departure?

Or in simpler terms - "Meh."

The persistent line of criticism targeted Swinson’s support for the Tory coalition and its policy of austerity. I certainly don’t think the Lib Dems have been nearly as regretful as they should be. They propped up a government programme which has crippled people’s lives, my own included. I’d make a terrible speechwriter, but for Swinson’s call to arms following her win I’d have used my neon highlighters to colour the remorse as bright as possible. They’re not the sole body responsible for austerity obviously. Though it’s impossible to detach their image from that loathsome coupling of Cameron/Clegg.

Having said that, Labour’s continual reliance on the austerity argument is not the political tool they believe it to be. They sound like a broken record; a seagull that prods a cul-de-sac awake in the morning. And as an election winner? It’s not something I’d put as top tier on the red wedding cake. Their biggest challenge will be to appeal beyond their core base who’ll vote for them regardless of the problems. Barking on about austerity, however rightful it is to do so, isn’t going to cause many now-Lib Dems to return and feel supported.

The journalist and stand-up comic Ayesha Hazarika challenged ‘Operation Overthrow Jo’ and was, predictably, leapt on by Labour’s outriders and Twitter battalions. It was a valid criticism. The party’s history of presenting a serious Brexit policy is another bullet point on the ‘reasons to bugger off’ list. Immediately this assertion was made to mean an indifference to the ills caused by austerity.

Have a scroll if you think you're brave enough.

Because according to Labour rules, you’re either on their side or a Tory. No middle ground, no constructive approach. You either vote Labour or you sanction the deaths and poverty of British people. Nuance is dead, long live our binary age. Grace Blakeley of the New Stateman positioned herself in the middle of this diatribe, standing on a soapbox and grandstanding for all to see. She called on Hazarkia to ‘decolonise her feed’. Clumsy and seething words, which have now entered the lexicon of memes, despite the original tweetstorm being deleted hastily. The entire debate was worrying – highlighting much deeper cracks in the Labour Party broad church.

It’s easy to see that the Labour Party is currently on a runaway train. Their individual crises of antisemitism and Brexit policy are two big oranges in a bountiful basket of fruit. My mum would often say to me and my sister when we were fighting as kids, “If you don’t pack it in I’ll bang your heads together.” The chastising approach to criticism has to change – or else we’ll have Boris Johnson with an actual mandate, and five more years of Tories.

A fate most certainly worse than death.🔷

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[This is an original piece, first published by the author in on 25 July 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Flickr/Liberal Democrats. - Jo Swinson. | 13 July 2017. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)