Ed Davey: The Battle for Liberal Britain

The Conservatives disappearing into infighting and cheap populism has left the Liberal Democrats with our biggest opportunity in generations. As our stunning by-election wins in Chesham & Amersham and North Shropshire proved last year, we can provide a political home for thousands of former Tory voters who are decent people dismayed by the party’s incompetence, scandals and sleaze under Boris Johnson.

And the stakes have never been higher. Around the world, populism and nationalism – liberalism’s enemies – are on the rise. There is a battle for Liberal Britain and to win it, Liberal Democrats must offer a clear vision for the future of our country.

But people constantly ask me: “what do the Liberal Democrats actually believe?” I don’t think we as a party have answered that question – or in recent years, even asked it of ourselves.

Historically, liberals have been the innovators in British politics. From developing the NHS and the welfare state, to introducing the Human Rights Act and same-sex marriage legislation, it has long been liberals who take on the establishment, right wrongs and overturn antiquated conventions.

That same radical action is needed today. After the world went through the nightmare of the Second World War, President Truman set out his fair deal of economic and social reforms, establishing a new social contract of what Americans can expect from their government. As our country recovers from the pandemic, we need a similarly bold package of new policies, to renew the social contract that has been broken by the Tories.

That’s why Liberal Democrats are fighting for a fair deal for people. We want a fair deal that says if you do your bit and play by the rules, you’ll be able to afford a decent home. Your children will go to a good school with real opportunities to fulfil their potential, and if anyone in your family is ill or disabled, they will get the care they need. A fair deal that puts more power in individuals’ hands and holds the already powerful to account.

But what should that fair deal actually look like, and how can we deliver it?

It’s questions like these that inspired me to put together my new book, ‘The Battle for Liberal Britain.’ I asked some of the freshest thinkers in our party to take on the biggest challenges people across the country are facing today – from housing and social care, to climate change and the future of the world of work.

The authors bring forward innovative, new ideas to address these challenges, all of which are rooted in our core beliefs of freedom, equality and community.

Like Matt Sanders’ proposal for longer school days, with more opportunities for children to do sports, music and art. Or Josh Babarinde’s bold idea to re-envision council estates as enterprise incubators, by assigning a start-up business adviser to every estate and giving a short-term rent break to help residents develop their business ideas. Or Wendy Chamberlain’s views on how to reform policing culture and restore public trust. And Luisa Porritt’s plans to tackle Britain’s housing crisis by retrofitting old office blocks in urban centres as affordable homes.

My hope is that this book will spark debate and generate even more new ideas, both within our party and beyond, and that they will help to re-energise liberalism in our country. And I very much hope you enjoy it, too.

Order your copy of ‘The Battle for Liberal Britain’ today.

* Ed Davey is the MP for Kingston & Surbiton and Leader of the Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • These are all good ideas and I will certainly read the book.

    But I do wonder whether every challenge can be met with ideas that are good and kind and affirming of our common humanity. As we face war in Ukraine, the loss of rights in Hong Kong, threats to Taiwan; a real challenge to the idea that democracy and human rights might prevail over dictatorship and tyranny, might we have to get our hands dirty a little?

    Should we have taken Barack Obama’s advice at the time and invested in fracking, for example, rather than be so dependent on Russian gas? Should we put on hold any ambition for nuclear disarmament? Should we seek strategic alliances with foreign powers that are bad but perhaps not dangerous?

    The symbolism of all these ideas is bad, but I prefer to judge policies by their consequences rather than by their symbolism.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Mar '22 - 10:58am

    What book formats will be provided please?

  • A very pertinent comment by Martin.

    When I first joined the Liberal Party way back in 1962 I knew what it stood for, and, at that time, it had very clear charismatic radical leadership. But, as with many things, times can and do change.

  • Duncan Brack 3rd Mar '22 - 5:14pm

    I think some of the comments here are a bit churlish. Ed clearly isn’t proposing to rewrite the preamble to the constitution, and while On Liberty is a splendid book, it’s a little lacking in prescriptions for today’s challenges. I think we ought to welcome all efforts by Lib Dem MPs (and anyone else for that matter) to stimulate thinking about new policy proposals – people might have noticed that Layla published something similar during the leadership election (https://www.laylamoran.com/build_back_better) – and I’m looking forward to reading the book, though when I click on the ‘continue’ button on the order page nothing happens! (For the avoidance of doubt, I had nothing to do with the book’s contents – clearly I’m not one of the party’s ‘freshest thinkers’ …)

  • Tristan Ward 3rd Mar '22 - 11:45pm

    I would love to red some thoughts on “Mill, Liberty and the Internet” or similar.

  • Duncan Brack – there was a problem with the link that had been supplied but we did change it yesterday to this one: https://www.politicos.co.uk/products/the-battle-for-liberal-britain-ed-by-ed-davey. Hopefully that works OK.
    We have reported the error to HQ.

  • John Shreeve 4th Mar '22 - 9:17am

    The extent of the loss of any sense of cohesive collective purpose cripples us. The preamble to the constitution sums us up perfectly but a smorgasbord of well-meaning policies doesn’t connect with a public who are desperate for a coherent alternative. The simple fact is that ‘its the economy stupid’ and we seem incapable of considering how we would change the way this country does business in order that ‘the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives’. We profess to wishing to create a fair society but without radical economic reform that is simply to profess the obvious. We are dominated by a culture of process and have lost any sense of wanting to confront the need for radical reform. The latent power hiding within this party is immense. I fear that our current leadership can be accused of doing the same as the others in that the narrative is dominated by ensuring that we only talk to our current supporters continually congratulating ourselves for what is in effect our failure to be seen as having a credible and exciting alternative view of what this country could be like. The scale of the opportunity available to us is vast but coffee has a distinctive smell.

  • Nigel Jones 4th Mar '22 - 9:59am

    Thank you Martin for reminding us that the pre-amble to the constitution is a good basis for what the LD party stands for. Thank you to Duncan Brack for pointing out we need to work out what it means for today’s challenges. Whenever I have shown an interested outsider that pre-amble the reaction has been “Fine words but what does it really mean in practice ?”

  • Peter Hirst 5th Mar '22 - 1:19pm

    An admirable title and I’m sure full of worthy sentiments. What does a Liberal Britain really mean and does anyone really want it? Hopefully individual empowerment and choice are essential ingredients, that can only come with sufficient income. It must also include a fair dose of fairness as an unequal Britain will find it challenging to be liberal.

  • “The Battle for Liberal Britain”….. The situation in the Ukraine should give Sir Ed Davey a push back into the direction of restoring British membership of the EU once again.

    Jonathan Freedland (the Guardian today) makes the case eloquently :

    …… “Putin has jogged our memories that the EU was founded out of the conviction that the only future for a continent that had been at the centre of two world wars in 30 years was to come together: to share sovereignty rather than to kill for it. The sight of a khaki-clad Volodymyr Zelenskiy signing Ukraine’s request to join the EU, even as Russian forces approached, demonstrated again that for Europeans, the EU has always been about safety and peace. How shaming to think of the Eurosceptics who pretended the EU was some kind of foreign occupier, referring to it as the “EUSSR”. How shaming to think that the British contribution to this noble postwar ideal was to abandon it”……… The Guardian 5 March, 2022.

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