Russia has been more measured than the US in dealing with global crises like North Korea, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader has said, telling her party conference that the victory of liberal values over intolerance was not guaranteed.
Jo Swinson, the former coalition minister who was re-elected to parliament in June after losing her seat two years ago, said she was concerned over the direction western politics was heading in, calling it “the politics of the bully”.
“When calm heads and brave leaders are needed more than ever, global politics seems broken,” she said. “A few years ago it would have seemed inconceivable that in such a crisis, China would be a voice of reason, and Russia more measured than America. The politics of the bully is back.”
Swinson said the party could not afford to wait for the mood to change. “As far as I can see, there is nothing inevitable about the triumph of liberal values. We need to understand what is going on, so we can work out what to do,” she said.
The new deputy leader, who was elected unopposed over the summer, said she was deeply concerned about the spread of hate speech in mainstream and fringe politics, fuelled by “the elite cabal of media owners and their hate-filled newspapers”, including the description of migrants and refugees as “swarms” and “cockroaches.”
Swinson said the hatred and racism on show as white supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, was not confined only to the US. “Don’t be fooled if you think this is only in America,” she said. “Just look at the murder of Jo Cox.”
She said her party should not let the fight to remain in the EU be the only mechanism for fighting the rise of extremism and xenophobia.
“We are absolutely right to fight for an exit from Brexit. Brexit will make it harder to follow our values, to protect human rights, to tackle climate change, to solve global problems,” she said. “An exit from Brexit is necessary, but not sufficient.
“The Faragey Trumpy angry arsey shouty slogans aren’t a solution to anything. But we do need to offer our own alternative solutions.”
Swinson said Donald Trump should not be offered a state visit, and said the US president was a product of “anti-liberal forces”. She said: “Trump is a bully, a misogynist and a racist. He boasts about sexually assaulting women.
“He cruelly mocked a reporter for his disability. He has rolled back trans rights. And for someone who makes much of being straight-talking, he won’t call a Nazi a Nazi. Yet the Conservative Government thinks it is right to offer Trump the honour of a state visit to the UK. They are wrong.
“It is a sign of our weakness in a Brexit world. How easily will our values be cast aside in our desperation to sign trade deals to avoid economic catastrophe.”
Swinson said the Lib Dems needed “to have the humility to admit that we haven’t found all the answers yet ... and it’s blindingly obvious the other parties haven’t either. We need to be much more radical, both in what we propose and in how we craft it.”
In an interview with the Guardian last week, Swinson said the party had to seek out a connection with liberal, progressive voters disturbed by the direction of both the Conservatives and Labour, but admitted it had failed to do so thus far.
“We clearly haven’t been able to make that connection yet and resonate with a lot of those people. That’s the task to get stuck into,” she said.
Swinson’s call for the party to adopt a more radical direction under its new leader, Vince Cable, echoed the views of former leader Paddy Ashdown, who wrote a blunt blogpost before the party’s conference.
“The vast sea of people who share our beliefs find themselves voiceless and silent,” he wrote. “Not all of them, sadly, are Liberal Democrats or want to be.”
Ashdown said the party was no longer seen as a radical force, compared with when it had opposed the Iraq war and championed equal marriage.
This article was written by Jessica Elgot, for theguardian.com on Sunday 17th September 2017 12.30 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010