Ed Davey is the new Lib Dem Leader. Why on earth should we care? – Liberal Article
Sir Ed Davey has won the Liberal Democrat Leadership contest. But why on earth should we care?
It’s a fair question to ask, and you’d be forgiven for not having any idea who the man is. He is relatively insignificant in the political landscape of 2020. Yet, this result may be far more significant than it is being given credit for.
First, let’s look at the man himself. Sir Ed Davey has been the MP for Kingston & Surbiton since 1997 (with a small gap during 2015-17) and served as Secretary of State for Energy & Climate Change during the Coalition Government.
His record as a coalition politician has made him subject to some friendly fire from leadership rival – the more spritely Layla Moran. However, his experience and dedication of nearly 30 years to the party has clearly been viewed positively by party membership. After all, his vote share was almost double Moran’s.
Davey first took the helm of the party as acting leader after Jo Swinson, the party’s self-proclaimed ‘Candidate for Prime Minister’, lost her seat at the 2019 General Election. With Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrats also lost their last shred of relevance as a party. After years of somewhat successfully rebranding themselves into the ‘Anti-Brexit Party’, their blind confidence in a relatively unknown leader, overeagerness for an early election, and radical ‘revoke’ policy, lost them the election and guaranteed Brexit.
So once again, after a third successive electoral nightmare, the Liberal Democrats find themselves trying to work out both who they are, and why on earth they exist. But for a party that John Curtice recently remarked is “flirting with irrelevance”, this may be their last opportunity for soul searching before there’s nothing left.
So what direction is Davey likely to take the party in? Liberal Democrats should have confidence in the fact that Davey seems to understand the intensity of the challenge the party faces. In his acceptance speech, he said he would rebuild the party and remarked, “We have to wake up and smell the coffee”. He then went on to say “It is time for us to start listening”, signalling his willingness to rebuild from the ground up.
Most importantly, however, Davey finally left Brexit behind, saying in The Guardian that “people need to understand what a party is about. And you can’t define a party by an issue which will go, which is transitional”. After taking a chance on the more radical Jo Swinson, it is clear that this time around the Liberal Democrats have opted for the steadier, more reliable, and safer pair of hands.
Above all, Davey’s relationship with another Knight of the Realm, Sir Keir Starmer, will define the party’s success. As the 1997 General Election showed, Labour and the Liberal Democrats both gain a lot when they are working together in some form, rather than tearing each other apart.
The coalition has, of course, left a bad taste in Labour mouths. But the Lib Dems must hope that almost a decade after Cameron and Clegg’s agreement, they are ready to move on. Any hope of a progressive future for the UK rests upon Ed and Keir’s relationship.
They must learn to work together or the Conservatives will be guaranteed another decade in power. The Liberal Democrats came second in 91 seats at the last General Election, and Tories won in 80 of those. Warm relations between the UK’s two more progressive major parties could pay off very well at the next General Election. I have confidence that after three General Election defeats for progressives, they will finally see that to win, egos must be put aside.
Call me an optimist, but I am confident that Starmer will “wake up and smell the coffee” just as Davey has.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Jeeves Sidhu
Point of Information
Lib Dems made the wrong choice – A Labour Response
This leadership election was a pivotal moment for the Liberal Democrats. Jeeves is right to suggest the party has ‘lost its last shred of relevance’. But whilst he attributes this to the leadership of Swinson, I believe it is Davey who represents the final nail in the coffin.
The decline of the Liberal Democrats came after their ill-fated encounter with the Tories. The coalition government ushered in a period of austerity that led to a 25% reduction in spending power for councils as well as a social security budget that was cut by £22 billion.
If we examine Ed Davey’s voting record in the period 2010-2015, he was an ardent supporter of these cuts. The crowning jewels of his voting record are: voting 24 times for welfare cuts and voting 5 times against welfare increasing in line with inflation; in other words, against giving people welfare that matched the cost of living.
Austerity as an economic approach continues to divide opinion. Perhaps Sir Davey will propose different answers than he did 10 years ago. Either way, the Liberal Democrats have voted overwhelmingly in favour of backing him. However, if future Lib Dem policies match his track record, I strongly doubt they will steal from either the Tory or Labour support bases. This signals that effective opposition to the Tories, once again, could be left solely to Labour.
Layla Moran would have been a historic leader. Yes, she is relatively new to politics. But she is the first openly pansexual MP and the first MP of Palestinian descent. I do not think she would have been appointed based on tokenism. But as a representative of the dynamism and social progression that define what it is to be a Liberal Democrat.
Furthermore, Moran has been vocal about government cuts; she used her first commons speech in 2017 to directly call out the underfunding of schools in her constituency. Gutsy in her defence of a society that works for all, Moran would have been a good leader. I hope she continues down her path and maybe one day becomes the leader of the Lib Dems. That is if they are still a credible third party.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Henry Mckeever
Lib Dems must not align but distance themselves from the main parties under Davey – A Conservative Response
The biggest issue here is not who won, but where the party will go next.
This article attempts to encourage Ed Davey to choose a side to align with. In this case, Keir Starmer’s Labour. Under Nick Clegg, the encouragement was to align with Cameron. Whilst I understand first past the post leaves this as the only way to get into government, the Lib Dems need to stop reading off the same script as the two main parties.
Stand as a party not just hoping for a coalition but to win. Don’t be as arrogant as Swinson was, but at least decide the party policies in hope of real change. If the party keep aligning themselves with either the Conservatives or Labour, you might as well vote for them instead. Being in the centre almost gives them the freedom to cherry-pick from both sides. They can come up with an agenda that people will feel compelled to vote for.
Whilst this result may say “largest margin of victory” and “nearly two-thirds of the vote”, these figures only tell half the story. The turnout was 57.6%; this means nearly 50,000 registered voters don’t even turn up anymore. This party needs a reboot and to be honest, the country is crying out for it too.
Davey clearly wants to move past recent election results. To do this they must leave Brexit behind them. Jeeves believes a change of leader does this, I’m afraid it is not that simple. Davey must acknowledge the Lib Dems’ contempt for democracy under Swinson. In the last election, they campaigned against upholding democracy. Accepting this as in the past is not enough, it must be condemned.
There is an opportunity for Davey. But only if he can encourage the Liberal party to stand on its own two feet. The stronger every party on our political spectrum is, the better our democracy. I understand the current two-party system and therefore reasons for Jeeves’s suggestion, however aligning with one or the other won’t change it. It will reinforce it.
Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps
Hello I’m Jeeves, one of POI’s new Liberal Political Writers and currently a final year politics student at the University of Exeter. For the past two years I’ve also served as Founder & President of Model Westminster Exeter, a branch of national political engagement charity Model Westminster.
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.
I am an incoming third year undergraduate currently studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. I am socially liberal, fiscally conservative editor here at POI. I have been fascinated by politics for many years, from PMQs to late night election results all which has led to the desire to study this at university.