Jo Swinson speaks at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Jo Swinson tipped to enter cabinet in Lib Dem reshuffle

Business minister, who recently returned from maternity leave, would replace Ed Davey. 

More than four years after they first entered government, the Lib Dems have still not had a single female cabinet minister. For many in the party, already dismayed by the Rennard affair, it has long been a point of shame.

But the upcoming cabinet reshuffle, expected early next week, offers a chance to finally change this. A senior party source suggests that Jo Swinson is line to replace Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, in the party's top team. Swinson, who recently returned from maternity leave (she is married to fellow Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames), has long been regarded as the strongest female candidate to enter the cabinet. She is a Clegg loyalist, a reliable media performer, and has impressed during her time as a business minister. Her current post would likely be filled by Jenny Willott, who covered for Swinson while she was on leave. If she does enter the cabinet, Swinson would be the youngest-ever female cabinet minister and the first cabinet minister born in the 1980s. 

The switch would be a logical one, but it would dismay Davey, who replaced Chris Huhne as Energy Secretary in 2012, and has long been regarded by MPs as positioning himself for a future leadership bid. 

No other cabinet-level changes are expected on the Lib Dem side. Clegg confirmed at the weekend that Vince Cable would remain Business Secretary until the election, Alistair Carmichael will remain as Scottish Secretary in advance of the independence referendum, and Danny Alexander will remain Chief Secretary to the Treasury ahead of his likely confirmation as the party's chief economic spokesman for the election (replacing Cable in that role). 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.