Lib Dems must 'own failures' of coalition, says Jo Swinson
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The Liberal Democrats must “own the failures” of the coalition government, the party’s deputy leader, Jo Swinson, has said, citing the “hostile environment”, the bedroom tax and NHS changes as policies she particularly regrets.
Swinson, a former business minister tipped as a future leader, said the party had inflicted too high a price on the poorest in society in an attempt to cut the deficit. “I’m proud of what we achieved – but I’m not naive or blinkered about it,” she told the Lib Dem conference in Brighton on Sunday.
“If we are to claim the successes of our time in government we need to own the failures of it too. We lost too many arguments. When they fought dirty, we were too nice.”
The MP, who regained her East Dunbartonshire seat last June after losing it in 2015, said she was particularly proud of some of the coalition’s achievements, adding she had fought the Tories “in budget after budget to raise the personal allowance, and take the lowest paid out of income tax completely”.
However, she said it was clear the Lib Dems should have done more to push back against some coalition policies: “Negotiating with the Conservatives meant compromise. And some of those compromises sucked.
“We should have done more. More to stop Theresa May’s hostile environment, more to block Andrew Lansley’s disruptive NHS changes, more to prevent Iain Duncan Smith’s punishing bedroom tax. We were right to cut the deficit, but those who were already struggling paid too high a price.”
Earlier Swinson, seen as a possible replacement for the Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable, who has said he will not fight a 2022 general election, said she was relaxed about the party’s proposed reforms to allow non-MPs to stand for leader - a move that could see her edged out of any forthcoming race.
“You don’t need to set up a new party because the Liberal Democrats are here, but we recognise that we have to change in order to make it easier for people that perhaps haven’t looked at us before to look again at the Lib Dems,” she told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday.
Asked if she would consider running for the party leadership, she said: “There’s no vacancy at the moment … at the time that Vince does stand down, then absolutely I’ll take a view at that point.”
Earlier in the day, the party’s conference voted on a new immigration policy paper rejecting the hostile environment.
The party’s home affairs spokesman, Ed Davey, a former cabinet minister during the coalition, said the Lib Dems would scrap the net migration target and end indefinite detention, as well as reforming the border force.
Lib Dem members also voted through amendments to give migrant spouses an entitlement to benefits from their first day in the UK, despite opposition from party chiefs and warnings from some activists that the party would be “slaughtered” on the doorstep.
Immigration and asylum
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