Thursday, June 7, 2012

Jo Swinson for Prime Minister

If you're not a member of the Liberal Democrats yet, you might not know who Jo Swinson is. She's been MP for East Dunbartonshire since 2005; she's Deputy Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats she's Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister; and she's Chair of the LibDems' Federal Policy Committee.

That list of not desperately high profile jobs probably still doesn't help you identify her. That's not surprising. She's only 32, and not even a member of the Government, let alone a Cabinet Minister.

But she has made strong contributions to BBC Question Time and in Parliament. And she's someone to watch.

Today she has written to Liberal Democrat members:

Dear LW,

Liberal Democrats in Government are continuing to put jobs and growth at the heart of our priorities. And as we redouble our efforts, we want to hear your views.

Vince Cable and Danny Alexander are coming to a meeting of the Federal Policy Committee on 20 June to discuss the party's ideas, and that is why we want you to feed directly into our thinking.

Below are some of the ideas that have already been put forward for consideration. We would like to hear what you think, and how they could be applied in your area.

Email us at XXXX
[not sure the recipients would appreciate the bucketload of spam that would follow if I publicised the email address, so contact me if you'd like it.]

Given that we also have to stick to our deficit reduction commitments, we'd also like to know what you would see as the most important, so please put them in your order of priority:
  • Increased infrastructure investment, as Nick argued for in the FT recently
  • Increased credit easing and bank lending, which Danny has been pushing for, to help small and medium sized companies grow, invest and employ more people
  • Further encouraging house building, especially affordable and sustainable housing, as Andrew Stunell has been working on
  • Extra support for young people seeking employment through Nick's £1bn Youth Contract or Vince's massive apprenticeship scheme
  • More support for entrepreneurs, as the government recently announced, to help create new businesses
If you have any other suggestions about generating jobs and growth please contact us at XXXX

Best Wishes,
Jo Swinson MP
Chair, Liberal Democrat Federal Policy Committee

What's particularly great about this letter

Now I'm not entitling this post "Jo Swinson for Prime Minister" just because this email to members happens to be in Jo Swinson's name. I've no idea who drafted the letter. And I'm sure it might well take a few more promotions and general elections before Jo could make PM.

The post is entitled "Jo Swinson for Prime Minister" because I cynically thought that would attract this blog some desperately needed links! No, it's really because having seen Jo in Parliament and in the media, I wish more politicians would adopt her thoughtful, pragmatic, caring, liberal and respectful approach to political questions. I hope that's a viable model for our future leaders.

But here's what I think is particularly good about this letter:
  1. Succinct. Excellent!
  2. Jobs and growth are at the heart of our priorities. Tackling the deficit is vital, sure, but it's a means to nationwide prosperity, and not simply for the sake of big business.
  3. The letter highlights some of the great initiatives that are being worked on, but in a context of wanting more (subject to deficit reduction constraints) rather than in a context of complacent achievement, or in a context of pained shrugging that deficit reduction is all.
  4. Cool. This is a party that, instead of assuming its leaders are the fount of all wisdom about the way forward, or pretending to listen via nebulous "listening exercises", focuses party members' attention on a key problem, presents some options, and asks for our views.
  5. Without having to repeat the truism that being in Government means having to make tough choices, some tough choices are laid before us.

My answers

Obviously all five of the ideas for generating jobs and growth sound like the sorts of things we should be doing, and I don't have the macro-economic expertise to judge what the balance should be.

However, firstly, I wonder whether the other four ideas might flow quite quickly from a version of the first in the list. That is: by offering long-term loans to businesses and universities that are researching and developing new methods for renewable energies and sustainable, energy efficient solutions. Rather than a "Dash for gas", a world-leading "Grab for the green market". Some greater bank lending, entrepreneurial activity, employment and house-building might well arise spontaneously if green industries are given a strong impetus from the Government, with concrete guarantees of a sustained commitment for, say, the next 5-10 years. We need, in any case, to do more to get a low-carbon economy, to cut our energy costs, to replace dying power sources, and to reduce our energy dependency on insecure regimes, so we might as well make the achievement of all of this a lucrative enterprise for Britain.

Secondly, in an earlier blogpost, I have laid out my prescription for "How to get growth". It's about empowering local engines for growth. Unglamorous, but it's what I think would get results quickly.

And thirdly, the latter "Local-Plus" agenda is part of a suggested narrative about what Liberal Democrats want. This narrative is about taking action to prevent the same economic crisis happening again: we want to make jobs that are sustainable; ensure the powerful are accountable; stimulate enterprise and innovative public services; and protect households and businesses from the consequences of fossil fuel dependence.

Your answers?

A lot of people seem very confident about the way out of our economic predicament.

I'm not at all confident.

But one thing I particularly like about the Liberal Democrat Party is its characteristic tendency to listen to ideas and to look at the evidence.

Over to you.

Update 8 June 2012

Mark Pack has also put the letter on his blog, and his response to Jo features his proposal to cap tax breaks on ISA savings accounts. There have been several examples during the last couple of years of proposals from regular LibDem members that have ended up as Government policy. Let's see what happens with the #PackCap.

Meanwhile, Iain Brodie Browne has responded to the letter by arguing that economic progress needs to be measured by more than just deficit reduction, and that greater infrastructure investment is needed, to get more houses built and boost jobs. Moreover, he says that the current "PLC" model of companies encourages predatory capitalism, and argues instead for employee-ownership, and the resurrection of local and regional mutual banking.


The photo above is subject to parliamentary copyright.

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