Show Hide image

20 under 40: Jo Swinson

Age: 31
Liberal Democrat, East Dunbartonshire

Jo Swinson started young, signing up as an active member of the Liberal Democrats when she was just 17. After launching a career in marketing, she won a seat in parliament in 2005, becoming the first ever MP to be born in the 1980s. After four years, she was replaced as Baby of the House by the Conservative Chloe Smith (born in 1982). There has been no sign since that her energies are depleting.

In her time, Swinson has served as a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on Scotland, foreign affairs and women and equality. She is now PPS to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable. Although she may have drawn attention initially because of her youth, she has continued to do so for her drive.

Since 2007, Swinson has pursued a niche yearly campaign against excessive packaging of Easter eggs, naming and shaming Guylian as the worst offender in 2010. Fortunately, this has not been her only interest.

Her stances read like a Liberal Democrat checklist. She vocally opposed the Iraq war and has defended civil liberties vigorously, fighting the erstwhile Labour government's proposal to introduce national identity cards. She supports measures to tackle climate change, and a reduction in income tax.

A Sun profile of the "Scottish siren" in 2006 helpfully explained that she "hates university tuition fees, but loves going to the gym, reading, hiking and salsa dancing". We cannot vouch for her continued interest in salsa, but in December 2010, she renounced her commitment to free education as one of the 28 Lib Dem MPs who voted to raise the upper limit on tuition fees. Nevertheless, she insists that she still believes university tuition should be funded from general taxation.

Swinson justified her decision by arguing that there was no alternative to the higher education funding crisis, and that Cable had secured significant measures to ensure fairness.

Many in the Liberal Democrat grass roots viewed the repudiation of their free education policy as a betrayal of the party's principles. However, some might say that Swinson's vote shows ambition to get ahead in government and a desire to prove that she understands the politics of being in power.

Her dedication to issues outside the mainstream - such as a recently launched campaign about body image, not forgetting those Easter eggs - suggests that she is not simply a ruthless careerist. Last year, Red magazine named her as one of Britain's most influential young female politicians, noting that "she is renowned for speaking up on national issues that other MPs shy away from".

Well-liked within her own party, Swinson is also half of a Liberal Democrat power couple, having married her fellow MP Duncan Hames in May this year.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has high praise for her achievements. As he declared last year: "The passion, dedication and conviction Jo brings to her work are a perfect antidote to the frustration people are feeling towards politicians."

In a political career already a term longer than those of many others on this list, Swinson has yet to put a foot wrong.

Next: Elizabeth Truss

Previous: Rory Stewart

Back to list

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 September 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the next Prime Minister