Davey’s Dilemma

Christopher Harries

This morning saw Sir Ed Davey confirmed as the permanent leader of the Liberal democrats. Can Davey reverse the Liberal Democrats fortunes or is the party and its leader doomed to irrelevance?

The optimistic launch for the Liberal Democrat general election campaign last year saw Jo Swinson claim that she could become Prime Minister. Such optimism for attaining power and stopping Brexit was miss placed. Instead the election saw the leader losing her seat to the Scottish National Party, while the Conservative party were elected with a majority to get Brexit done.

The period in coalition with the Conservatives was bruising for both the party and Davey. The election after five years as junior partners in the coalition government saw the party lose forty-nine seats, an experience which saw Davey lose his Kingston & Surbiton seat.

In the years since that blood bath election, the Liberal Democrats have tried to find a cause that will resonate with the electorate. The most notable being the crusade to stop the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. The party which has been consistently pro-European has sought to mobilise the support of those who voted to Remain.

Despite being vociferous in opposition to leaving the European Union, the party has struggled at the ballot box. The high point since the coalition government was the European Parliament elections last year which saw the party run on the slogan ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ and receive nearly a fifth of the national popular vote.

The party must decide in the post Brexit world if its raison d’être is liberalism or if it shall continue to embrace the left. If the leadership contest is anything to go by the rejection of Layla Moran MP in favour of Davey, is a sign that the membership was not in favour of going fully woke.

The victory in December for the Conservatives and Boris Johnson means that the Liberal Democrats must decide on a fresh cause to champion. If the leadership contest is anything to go by, then stopping Brexit will be replaced by climate change.

Now Davey must use the experience gained from working alongside former leader Paddy Ashdown to rebuild the Liberal Democrats. Can he chart a path that returns the party to its Liberal roots, differentiating the party from Labour. Ultimately the challenge will be to convert the vote share of 30-40% in thirty three seats enjoyed at the last election into more representation.

Failure to chart a fresh course will ultimately consign the Liberal Democrats to more time as an irrelevant force in British politics. If Davey and the Liberal Democrats are able to differentiate themselves from the increasingly social democrat leaning Labour Party and convert high vote share into actual seats, then they could command influence as potential king makers.

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