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13 February 2019

Jo Swinson Q&A: “We seem to have lost the art of disagreeing well“

The Lib Dem MP talks Paddy Ashdown, Game of Thrones, and Charles Handy’s The Second Curve.

By New Statesman

Jo Swinson was born in Glasgow in 1980. First elected as the MP for East Dunbartonshire in 2005, she is now the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was three years old I was stung by a bee when I was visiting the zoo. It was all made better with some ice cream.

Who was your childhood hero?

Anita Roddick. Growing up in the 1980s, I used to love going into The Body Shop to get my banana-shake soap and sign the petitions at the till.

What book last changed your thinking?

Charles Handy’s The Second Curve. It’s about how every so often you need to start a new paradigm. Take a bell-shaped curve: when you get to the top of it, instead of going down, you can jump on to the next curve and go up again. In terms of politics, that’s absolutely what we need.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Paddy Ashdown. He was the Lib Dem leader when I first joined the party in 1997, becoming so at a time when, as he famously liked to say, the party was polling at asterisk in the opinion polls: no discernible support found. He took us from that situation to a serious, credible force in British politics. He was so full of energy and passion for making the world a better place. He’s very much missed.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

One hundred years into the future, a time I won’t get to see. I’d love to know: did we prevent catastrophic climate change? Gender equality – have we cracked it? And are we still talking about Brexit?

What TV show could you not live without?

I do love a bit of Game of Thrones. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Who would paint your portrait?

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. Her work is close to my heart as she and her husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed House for an Art Lover, where I got married.

What’s your theme tune?

The Black Eyed Peas, “I Gotta Feeling”.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

My dad used to tell me always to ask questions, there’s no such thing as a stupid question. It was very good advice.

What is currently bugging you?

We seem to have lost the art of disagreeing well. Being able to disagree with someone’s viewpoint but not consider that it inherently makes them an evil person is a talent we should find once more.

What would make your life better?

More sleep. I have a seven-month-old baby!

When were you happiest?

Not a single moment, but lots of little ones. Whether it’s making a baby laugh, baking fairy cakes with my five year old, going for dinner with my husband or climbing a hill with people that I love. It’s the little things that you make time for.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

Well, I was able to test that one out when I lost my job as an MP in 2015. I was fulfilling an ambition I’ve had since I was ten years old: to become an author.

Are we all doomed?

Not if we roll up our sleeves and get stuck in. We need to encourage people not just to sit on the sidelines and feel annoyed with the way the world is going, but do what they can to sort it out, and I think together we can do that. l

Jo Swinson’s book “Equal Power: Gender Equality and How to Achieve It” is published by Atlantic Books

This article appears in the 13 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The revolution that fuelled radical Islam