Jo Swinson: "As a nation, we've regressed"

Jo Swinson brought us shared parental leave and gender pay gap reporting. The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats shares her views on Brexit, battles and breaking the mould.

by Kate Bassett

Photography: Julian Dodd

On her childhood:

My parents encouraged me to think I could do anything: "The world is your oyster. Just get out there and ask questions." My childhood was a mix of ballet classes and debating society. I liked arguing. As a teenager, I wanted to be an author. Later on, inspired by Young Enterprise and the Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, I decided I wanted to go into business. Throughout my 1980s childhood, it didn’t cross my mind that it was unusual for a woman to be a prime minister – the very act of being the first woman to lead the UK government is one of Margaret Thatcher’s most powerful legacies.

On going into politics:

I joined the Lib Dem party at the Freshers’ Fair at the London School of Economics. The summer after my first year, having just been dumped by my boyfriend, I signed up to Activate, a residential weekend in the Peak District to learn all about political campaigning. I loved it and my participation snowballed from there. I was elected to Westminster when I was 25; I was Britain’s youngest MP. When I was out and about in Parliament, people would ask me who I worked for. I’d say: "The 70,000 people in East Dunbartonshire." They’d look at me in surprise – they had automatically assumed I was a private secretary. People underestimate young women.

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