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Ed Davey’s stunt campaign is deeply cynical

Taking the public for a ride. Credit: Getty

June 13, 2024 - 10:00am

There was a very funny character in The Fast Show called Colin Hunt. Clad in bright shirts and loud ties, and greatly enamoured of his own supposedly hilarious antics, he was a sharply-observed parody of the kind of exhaustingly “zany” funster, forever quoting Monty Python sketches, that many of us will have encountered.

I am increasingly reminded of Colin Hunt by the Liberal Democrats’ leader. Sir Ed Davey — a knight of the realm — has spent the first part of the general election campaign indulging himself in a series of self-consciously wacky escapades, from playing jenga with a giant tower of blue blocks (a subtle visual metaphor for Tory collapse, you see) to trying out the rides at Thorpe Park, to being photographed with a large model T-Rex in Wokingham (no, me neither). Yesterday, he was filmed failing to complete an aquatic obstacle course, ending up in the water but taking it in jolly good spirit, because he’s not a stuffed shirt, like those other fellows at Westminster!

One could be forgiven for raising a sceptical eyebrow at some of these shenanigans, and wondering whether there might be a certain amount of careful political positioning at work. After all, it is only a few months since Sir Ed was under considerable pressure related to his role in the historic Post Office Horizon scandal, at which point he was serving in the Coalition government. Victims of the scandal were highly critical of his failure to act, when he had responsibility for postal affairs from 2010 to 2012. Some pundits raised the possibility that he would have to resign the leadership.

There is also a broader issue relating to the nature of the Lib Dems. As a repository for protest votes, and as a party that notoriously takes an “all things to all men” approach to campaigning in different constituencies and parts of the country, it is crucial to their national strategy to avoid making too many concrete policy commitments.

Planning is perhaps the most obvious example. In affluent rural seats, Lib Dem campaigners often side with local Nimbys in blocking housing and infrastructure, promising small-c conservative homeowners that they will resist “over-development” and “protect the Green Belt”. Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West & Abingdon, has played a key role in blocking the long-planned and much-needed Abingdon reservoir.

But Lib Dems in large cities tend to be much more pro-building, as they seek to tap into the discontent of young professionals frustrated by the housing shortage. My local Lib Dem candidate, in our mostly urban and not especially prosperous seat on the east Kent coast, mentions homebuilding prominently on his website; a little to the west, amid the wealthy villages and rolling hills of Sussex, his party colleagues are silent on the subject.

Davey’s capers are all very well, and entertaining up to a point. But jokes can outstay their welcome. The Lib Dems will almost certainly be the third largest party in the next parliament. They deserve serious scrutiny, and the question of whether their leader contributed through his own negligence to the horrific injustice done to the Horizon postmasters needs to be fully explored.


Niall Gooch is a public sector worker and occasional writer who lives in Kent.

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Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 month ago

From afar, it seems as though the Lib Dems are a kind of eccentric hobby for middle-class people, a bit like Morris Dancing or antique car rallies.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

They seem that way from close up too!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago

This does put me in mind of former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe and his hovercraft antics in the 1974 GE.
Look where he ended up …

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
1 month ago

Isn’t Layla the first ‘Palestinian Pansexual’ MOP ?

What’s not to like ?

She must have sooo much in common with her Cotswold constituents.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

The constituency has flipped between Conservatives and Lib Dems for decades. Plenty of middle class leftists in West Oxford who for some reason find Labour unpalatable.

Moran represents a peculiar form of nimby who resists infrastructure development (probably on eco grounds), while simultaneously waving in migrants a-plenty, with no consideration as to where they will live or indeed how water will come out of the tap. At least your traditional ‘gammon’ or ‘Karen’ maintains a degree of consistency in their outlook.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
1 month ago

All I see in my South Oxfordshire (Henley) Constituency is Liberal Dumocrat election boards winning here. Quite why they have to broadcast to everyone that they are Liberal Dumocrats is beyond me. It seems both Labour and Conservatives are beyond this or they don’t have the will and energy to win.
Why build a reservoir when you can drain all the Rivers first as their banners proclaim. That no one in this overcrowded Country has built a reservoir since 1992 despite an extra 10 million people arriving here is beyond me but the Climate Change excuse will be used when the reservoirs do eventually run dry.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

“….for some reason find Labour unpalatable“?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

This is from observation when I lived there. I never quite understood why in adjacent constituencies the left leaning middle class voted for different parties.

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

The line from 3 Men in a Boat comes to mind .

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 month ago

Dignity. Always dignity.

Catherine Conroy
Catherine Conroy
1 month ago

Maybe he’s just practising for the next series of I’m a Celebrity where I hope he’ll end up.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago

When Boris Johnson as London Mayor slid down a zip wire prior to the 2012 Olympics, he was able to get away with it because he was seen as a bit of a jester. Ed Davey isn’t; in fact, a vanishingly small number of people know much about him at all. I guess he’s trying to demonstrate some “personality” in the absence of one.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Well, he has shown himself to be a dab hand at falling off a paddleboard!

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

Such a shame that the “Official Monster Raving Loony Party” name is already taken.
This isn’t supposed to be a reality TV show where the public vote people out. Or is it ?

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
1 month ago

A man who says a woman ‘clearly’ can have a p***s, quote Sir Ed Davey, is not fit to run a whelk stall never mind a political party.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Carol Forshaw

Why stop at one p***s? Surely they can have as many as they want?

John Tyler
John Tyler
1 month ago

His grasp of serious politics is questionable.

Adam Bacon
Adam Bacon
1 month ago

The LibDems are, of course, part of the Overton Window limited Uniparty. Consequently, any serious analysis of the Post Office scandal, or the infected blood one, or the possibility of one related to Covid vaccines or historically the one about invading Iraq, on the dodgy basis of Sadaam Hussain having Weapons of Mass Destruction needs to be suppressed, for their self interest.

Isn’t it curious that the the word Lockdown has barely been mentioned during this election campaign? The most socially and economically significant policy of the last parliamentary period.. and yet they’re not trying to use it to to their advantage, they’re mutually looking the other way and collectively forgetting it. I think that speaks volumes.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Adam Bacon

I wish I had a quid for every time the Overton Window has been mentioned in UnHerd in the last three months.

Agnes Aurelius
Agnes Aurelius
1 month ago

The Lib Dems are neither Liberal nor Democratic. They are opportunistic, unprincipled and unscrupulous; from reneging on University fees to trying to overturn the Brexit referendum result. Their Gender ideology is ignorant, allowing men into women’s refuges/changing rooms/toilets and to compete in women’s sports. They are the archetypal Little Englander with their anti-car and anti-economic growth, trying to keep the bucolic image of the UK but happy to exploit the “slave labour” that provides them with low wage earners to clean their houses, cars and old folks. As for the Post Office scandal, maybe Ed Davey is trying to drown his shame.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Agnes Aurelius

Maybe, but the “Opportunistic, Unprincipled and Unscrupulous Party” doesn’t have much of a ring to it.