The Liberal Democrats are once again, within a year, in a new leadership race.
After Swinson lost her seat in last December’s general election, speculation has risen around who would succeed her — Sir Ed Davey or Layla Moran? Provided this race would deliver a long term leader, this contest is of great relevance to UK politics. With both Conservatives and Labour focussing on the formerly known red wall constituencies, there is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to exploit the gap of representation to win some more seats. This is further supported by the fact that the Liberal Democrats have historically been able to make gains amidst big parliamentary majorities, notably in the Blair era. Hence, the party is in need of a leader that is capable of laying the foundations for a consistent performance which serves as a benchmark to build more seats. As it stands, the Liberal Democrats need to think in the long term and should therefore elect Ed Davey as leader of the party.
He is capable of understanding what it takes to immerse candidates in their constituencies and build the support needed to win elections.
In terms of building and winning seats, Ed has the experience. Having won his seat in Kingston and Surbiton in 1997 with a mere 56 vote on his first time standing for that seat, he has built up a sizeable majority without having to make deals. Layla on the other hand first contested the seat of Battersea in 2010 during Cleggmania, and yet still failed to secure the seat, which voted overwhelmingly (77%) to remain in the EU. She then tried her current seat, Oxford and West Abingdon in 2015, which she expectedly lost after the defeat of the Liberal Democrats and did not gain it until 2017, with the Greens not standing. In 2019, she also relied on the support of the Greens and making deals with them locally. Whilst Layla has the ability to maintain her own seat, Ed managed to build a seat against all opposition left and right. He also assisted in winning some local and regional seats for the party. He is capable of understanding what it takes to immerse candidates in their constituencies and build the support needed to win elections.
Furthermore, Ed has a tremendous vision of policy impact on the UK and understands that policies are not only there to appeal to the membership, but to the wider electorate. The Conservatives boasted about electricity finally being generated without the need to burn coal — a remarkable achievement. Though, here’s the caveat: it was not their policy in the first place. It was Ed, as Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who pushed these reforms into place. He created initiatives to make energy production in the UK greener and laid the foundations for the current government’s targets and achievements, such as the UK’s place as the leading country in offshore wind farms. Davey helped to develop the manifesto pledge of the penny tax on the basic rate income tax to raise an estimated £7 billion annually, which was praised by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) in the 2019 election. Ed’s economic policies are especially relevant for a post-COVID bounce back that ensures our society recovers as a whole. In short, Ed has the experience and vision to build a stronger and fairer society.
Though is Ed just “another middle-aged white man” in Westminster?
However, some claim that his position as a minister of the Crown during the coalition presents a bad record for the party and reminds of the public of the coalition years. Some of the membership are worried that the precious airtime that the party seldom will get spent on interviews scrutinising Ed on austerity and tuition fees — this is a valid concern. Yet, probing of the coalition years will happen regardless of the leader. The party will need to explain that they were in a coalition with the Conservatives and there were some aspects that they didn’t approve of and yet had to vote in favour, due to the need to compromise in coalitions.
Though is Ed just “another middle-aged white man” in Westminster? Whilst one may be able to understand that some of the membership are pointing out that Layla brings in a fresh and “radical” position, the way this argument is phrased is rather malice. Ed is committed to the liberal cause and is not reserved about presenting bold ideas, having made Johnson pledge on record in the House to set up an independent inquiry of the government’s handling of COVID-19. Furthermore, since becoming acting leader, Ed has been leaping from his seat with great alacrity, interjecting fervently during debates using tone and body language. The membership should therefore consider striking a balance between bold and reasonable, a quality that Ed possesses.
In a world of ever decisive and chaotic politics, the Liberal Democrats have a unique opportunity in the next election to gain new seats. With the vision, experience and leadership of Ed Davey, the party will regroup and build its numbers once again. Layla may be popular amongst the membership, but not with the wider electorate. Ed on the other hand has the capabilities of leading the party and being a sensible compromise between the party membership and the nation.
By Mike Salem
Image: by Liberal Democrats via Flickr