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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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.