Questions still linger about Sir Ed Davey’s coalition past – while the future looks uncertain


Rather like Sir Keir Starmer, Sir Ed Davey inherited a thoroughly broken party in 2020 when he became leader.

Also rather like Sir Keir, if the polls and polling projections are to be believed, Sir Ed has brought the party to the brink of a remarkable comeback, reversing the deep losses bequeathed by Nick Clegg in 2015 after five years of coalition.

The made-for-TV election stunts may look bold, but Sir Ed’s plan has been cautious and incremental.

Nothing bold on Brexit, which was the signature of the party’s 2019 campaign. No pretence that Sir Ed could be prime minister after the election, as Jo Swinson pretended in 2019 – this is a campaign targeted in seats the party thinks it can win.

Instead we have a campaign of reassurance from a party that abandoned “equidistance” – holding Labour and Tory at similar distance which led to five years of coalition with the Tories until 2015 – and turning them into a purely anti-Tory force, more in tune with many activists’ inclinations.

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Now the party could be about to quadruple its seats. This could put it on course to returning as the third biggest party in the Commons, regaining the crown from the ailing Scottish National Party, its biggest achievable goal for the 4 July election.

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Yet Sir Ed has brought the Lib Dems to this point while leaving unresolved some big questions about both the past and the future.

First, he simply refuses to deal with the past. Sir Ed was a minister and cabinet secretary in the coalition government all the way from 2010 to 2015.

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Can voters trust Lib Dems’ manifesto?

That means he was in the government that cut tens of billions from public services and squeezed the NHS – causing damage which his party at this election is now promising to fix.

But will he concede mistakes were made? I pushed him six times in an interview today over whether he would disown or endorse the £40bn of cuts announced by the coalition in 2010, and every time he sidestepped the question.

Political parties can make promises at election time but – rather like the Lib Dems and tuition fees in 2010 – these can be broken and the past can provide a better guide to post election behaviour.

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The other big question is the future.

Having turned the Lib Dems into a Tory-fighting force, we are now just weeks away from the potential of a Tory wipeout.

What do the Lib Dems do then? What’s the impulse of the hordes of new Lib Dem MPs? Do they attack Sir Keir’s Labour – something Sir Ed has assiduously avoided doing to date? Or do they work with them?

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Davey refuses to say austerity was a mistake

I asked Sir Ed what would become of the 114-page fully costed manifesto, given a Labour landslide would render their influence minimal in the next parliament.

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Sir Ed answered, perhaps a little implausibly, that a Labour government might take ideas on things like the NHS from his party’s manifesto, just as he claimed Gordon Brown did with Bank of England independence in 1997.

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The Battle for Number 10, a UK Election Leaders’ Special Event, will air from Grimsby on Sky News on Wednesday.

Let’s see – a Labour government led by Sir Keir would feel no political necessity to borrow from the Lib Dems. More likely relations between the two parties gradually deteriorate.

None of this matters for now. Sir Ed has managed to combine his own unique personal story about caring for his disabled son now and his dying mother as a teenager, with a manifesto designed to appeal to one-time Tories.

This could prove a popular tactic on 4 July. He probably thinks what comes next can wait.



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