Ed on Kuenssberg: Lib Dems are excited and confident about election

Ed Davey did his first interveiw of the year on Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday this morning. The first question, was, of course, on the Post Office scandal and Ed’s role as Minister.

Her first question : Why did it take you so long to say sorry?

I probably should have said sooner early on.

It’s a huge scandal and our hearts go out to postmasters. They need to get exonerations and compensation quickly and we need to get the truth from the enquiry.

He talked about two sub postmasters in his constituency, one of whom spent 16 months in prison.

I’m going to fight for those and join others in making sure that the Government gives the sub postmasters the fair deal they deserve.

He actually has been fighting for them since there was evidence that there were flaws with Horizon and called for the enquiry back in 2015.

Kuenssberg showed him the letter he wrote to Alan Bates in 2010 saying that there would be no point to a meeting.  Ed replied that he had only been in office for 11 days and  was advised by his officials not to. When Bates wrote to him again, though, he wanted to know more about his concerns and was the first post office minister on record to meet him.

When that meeting took place in late 2010, he said he was concerned about the issues Alan Bates raised about Horizon. He took the concerns to his officials and the Post Office and was given categorical assurances that there was no remote access.

He said that it turns out that the Post Office were lying to him and that conspiracy of lies means that we need systemic change in how we deal with things like this.

Kuenssberg asked him if he’d never stopped to think that there must be something going on here.

He said that he wasn’t asked about it in Parliament. He said that things didn’t really change until the BBC’s Panorama programme found hard evidence in the form of a whistleblower from Fujitsu in August 2015.

Kuenssberg then moved on to the General Election, asking  if we weren’t embarrassed by the results in the by-elections last week.

Ed responded:

What we are seeing in this Parliament is huge success for Liberal Democrats. In those 4 by-elections we had staggering success in true blue areas.

We’ve had some of our best local elections ever and we have had by far the best success in local government by-elections.

We go into the next election with a real sense of excitement. There’s loads of areas where if you want to get rid of your Conservative MP, you’ve got to vote for the Liberal Democrats. I’ve talked about the “Blue Wall” where we are having massive success against the Conservatives and the south west as well, we are coming back there. So we go into this election year more confident than for many a year.

Kuenssberg asked if he was confident that we can be the third party again. His answer was simple. “Yes.”

Earlier she  brought up the Guardian letter signed by 30 prominent party members back in November as we reported here.

Ed said:

Well I disagree. Some of us want to be a think tank. I want us to win elections, defeat Conservative MPs  and remove this awful Government. When I became leader it was after a very disappointing result for us in the 2019 election and I said that I wanted the party to change in a number of ways. The most important thing was to listen to people and get back to the sort of community politics that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have done so well over the decades. When you that and knock on all the doors that we have been knocking on, people talk about the Health Service and the cost of living and so as leader I have ensured that we have focused, laser beam like, on the issues voters are concerned about.  For example, today, we are taking about Cancer. I have experience of Cancer in my own family. It’s an issue of personal concern to me and a massive concern to millions of them.

His response was in the ball park of what it needed to be to move on and get through the interview, but his dismissal of those who expressed concern as wanting the party to be a think tank was a bit gratuitous. The anxiety that our current strategy of keeping our heads down and not saying very much will not cut it in the heat of an election campaign and might jeopardise the work we have done so far on the ground in our target seats is a very real one and goes much wider than the 30 people who put their names above the parapet in that letter.  The leadership needs to have a much more persuasive and conciliatory approach internally and it needs to listen to what people are picking up on the ground that they don’t know what we stand for. Being pro NHS and anti sewage only gets you so far.

We all share a fear that the Tories might cling on to power. Labour might do a 1992 style screw up. Our bonkers electoral system combined with the massive spending advantages the Tories have given themselves and their voter suppression techniques might give them more chance than they deserve.

As a party we have underperformed in every single election since 2001 and people are worried that this will be another example where we haven’t taken full advantage of our opportunities. On the other hand, those in charge of the campaign don’t want anything, including ourselves to rock the boat. Our peacetime lines are one thing, but voters will want to know what we stand for and I’m not sure we have that narrative where it should be yet.

As for this interview, however, it’s the best one he’s done in a while.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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31 Comments

  • Good article. I contrast Ed’s approach with that of Paddy in 1997. We had a clear target seat strategy and we won most of them. But we ALSO had a few
    distinctive national positions eg the penny on income tax for education. The two are complimentary yet it appears that we are now putting all our eggs into the ground war basket. I fear we could be exposed in the short campaign and risk coming 5th in votes (overtaken by Reform and Greens who have distinctive national positions), even if we come 3rd in seats.

  • Ian Patterson 25th Feb '24 - 11:10am

    The media only look at seat numbers.

  • As usual Caron has done us a great service with this piece – viscerally loyal to our party and wonderful activists but calling out a leader who is rude to us. We have the other political parties and most of the media to sneer at us as “think-tankers”. Why does he have to do it?

  • David McAllister 25th Feb '24 - 11:59am

    Good summary of the interview. I do realise we are second to the Tories in a lot of seats but I would also like some focus on beating Labour/SNP. I think there is more opportunity for us to be a radical alternative to Labour.

  • Robin Stafford 25th Feb '24 - 12:03pm

    Good summary thanks Caron – and Ive listened to it.
    One point – I think the first letter was 2010 when Ex was first a minister, not 2015. Crucial, as in 2010 none of the investigation had been done that showed PO/Fujitsu had been lying. By 2015 that was clearly exposed. Computer Weekly and the Eye have both done handy summaries of the timelines.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Feb '24 - 12:07pm

    Good spot, Robin. Thanks

  • I don’t see that Ed was being insulting – there are a lot of Libdems who think of Us more as a Think Tank – its a legitimate view & part of the Truth.
    The Election however is about getting more Libdem MPs & damaging The Tories as much as we can. The Election will be “About” The Tories more than anything else & after 14 Years of Chaos that is fair enough.

  • Neil James Sandison 25th Feb '24 - 1:42pm

    My concern with Ed is its all about the past and very little how we deliver a distinct message about the future . How we promote a new liberalism for the 21st Century or just rest on our laurels from the coalition years . Politics has moved on ,those of us in the front line at a local level can see this why cant Ed .

  • Anthony Acton 25th Feb '24 - 2:44pm

    ED’s decency came through well – a refreshing contrast with Coffee and Dowden who should have called out the appalling Anderson, Braverman, Truss brigade but just offered slippery evasions instead. The trouble is there’s no upside for the party however well Ed answers the PO Horizon questions – and they’ll keep coming all through the GE. It’s plain that the leadership’s strategy is to rebuild the Parliamentary party at the GE and leave any distinctive policy development until after that. It’s a heck of a risk to go into the GE without giving those of us living in Tory seats which are not LD targets any good reason to vote LD rather than Labour.

  • Chris Moore 25th Feb '24 - 2:45pm

    @Paul Fox: we will definitely not come behind the Greens in votes.

    Their strength is very patchy indeed and at national level is limited to a handful of constituencies.

    My take on the “think tank” remark is that Ed, quite rightly, wants us not to revert to promoting our pet policies that excite activists and are of no interest to the electorate: i.e. PR, LV tax, Rejoin and so on.

    We do also have some decent policies on caring and NHS. If we mentioned these more, this SHOULD satisfy the signatories of the letter.

    Though I fear what they really want is to go back to PR, LTV etc.

  • Michael Bukola 25th Feb '24 - 9:51pm

    The think this issue of the post office scandal is going to run and run right through the Election as the public want a scalp. It certainly does not help that the public inquiry is still ongoing. The Tories have basically embarked on a Decapitation strategy since the 2015 GE aimed at the Party leadership, which only worked during the 2019 GE. I think its fairly obvious that they will try again with Ed. My guess at the ‘think tank’ remark was that it was rather aimed at old ‘rivals’ mentioning no names..

  • @ Paul Fox. Some good and interesting points, Paul, and of course Paddy had charisma, an interesting hinterland, and could make an inspiring speech.

  • Michael Bukola hits the spot.

    My advice to Sir Edward would be to avoid any interview with Andrew Neil under any and every circumstance.

  • Neil James Sandison 26th Feb '24 - 12:17pm

    We must have our own USP going into the general election ,we are not there to be Tory lite that role will be taken up by Reform . Ian Shires comments ring true as does Chris Rennard on CHEESE . The people who vote for us even in no hope wards and constituencies like our constructive message that we are not tribalistic but thoughtful and have a fresh take on old problems . So Ed needs to take a leaf out of his own book as a policy adviser to Paddy Ashdown and come forward with a Liberal Democrat platform our members and voters can get behind .

  • This question keeps coming up for Ed, have other Post Office Ministers been so questioned? Perhaps Ed should have a list of Post Office Ministers since 2000? give it to
    his questioner and state that he is happy to answer all questions on this matter provided
    his questioner undertakes to put the same questions to the other Ministers listed.
    Turning to the organisation of the Post Office why can’t the Minister be a Director of the Post Office , in that way they can attend the Directors Meetings and obtain a copy of all papers etc going before the Board.As a Director he would be able to question senior senior management etc
    Currently the Minister seems to take the can but has no proper oversight of the organisation.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Feb '24 - 1:05pm

    @Michael Bukola: Jo Swinson lost to the SNP in 2019, with the Tory vote in East Dunbartonshire falling slightly. Nick Clegg held on in 2015 because of David Cameron phoning around loyal Tory voters to persuade them to vote tactically for Clegg because if Clegg were to lose it would have been to Labour. He lost to Labour in 2017 mainly because of this tactical vote unwinding, tactical voting not being something that true-Blue Tory voters are in the habit of doing normally. The Tories did try to take out Tim Farron in 2017, but failed to do so.

    As for the PO scandal, the public already have a much bigger scalp than Ed, with Paula Vennells forfeiting her CBE. I really doubt it will have much impact on the Lib Dems at the next GE, as there are so many others who have much dirtier fingers than Ed, and the attacks on him are quite transparently politically motivated.

  • Let’s be thankful (1) for Caron’s initial stance and (2) for small mercies! Ed did slip in a line about our local council by-election gains being streets ahead of everybody else’s over the past year.

  • Alex Macfie 26th Feb '24 - 8:47pm

    All current and former PO ministers will be giving evidence to the inquiry in the next phase, Ed included. This will actually help Ed, because (i) he won’t be being singled out; (ii) it won’t be hostile, loaded questions from someone with an agenda, and (iii) it (I presume) is protected by legal privilege, so he’ll be able to name names. Assuming what he’s been saying in interviews thus far is truthful, it’ll be much harder to attack him over it after he’s given his evidence.

  • I would be concerned that whilst the Tory vote is imploding in “red wall” areas (up to 25% fall) it is is reducing by more modest amounts in “blue wall” areas (6-8%) where Sunak is not as unpopular as Johnson was. This undermines the Lib Dem strategy and the basis of the byelection wins. I’m getting these figures mainly from interpreting You Gov polls.

  • @ Alex Macfie ” it’ll be much harder to attack him over it after he’s given his evidence”.

    That’s what you hope will happen.

    My opinion – after sixty years experience of politics – is the impression of it will simply keep the whole thing and his personal association with it lingering on in the public mind.

  • Roger Billins 27th Feb '24 - 9:59am

    Just a few thoughts. I do hope that, as the election approaches, the leadership sharpens up our appeal so that people have a reason to vote for us other than in response to local campaigning. As to Ed and the Post Office, all I can say that here in Stratford on Avon, the issue is barely mentioned on the doorstep and we are more likely to hear rude comments about the antics of our MP, Nadhim Zahawi!

  • Marco’s analysis makes a lot of sense, the only caveat is that very recent local by-elections look more heartening re the blue wall.

    Further to the earlier discussion – not sure there’s much to inspire in “CHEESE and sleaze” but then perhaps I am a gloomster and a doomster 🧀😊.

  • Alex Macfie 27th Feb '24 - 1:32pm

    @Marco: National opinion polls are rarely useful indicators for the constituency-level performance of minor parties. This is true even for MRP polls, which tend to assume that tribes of voters (as defined by the pollster) swing the same way nationwide, and therefore fail to account sufficiently for local factors or tactical voting. Take this prediction for Richmond Park
    https://www.electoralcalculus.co.uk/fcgi-bin/calcwork23.py?seat=Richmond+Park
    It has Labour rising from 5% to 18.1%. Really?!?!? This is not going to happen — Labour has virtually no local organisation here and voters know that it’s between Lib Dems and Tories (we’ve made sure of that). Of course, tactical voting mainly kicks in during an election campaign, when it becomes clearer who is competitive locally, so polls naturally don’t always reflect it. For this reason Greens and Reform are not going to do anywhere near as well as current polling suggests, because there are so few areas where they are actually competitive or organised locally.

  • Alex Macfie – I agree that electoral calculus doesn’t make sense. Swings are not uniform but at the same time the level of tactical voting shouldn’t be exaggerated. In ’97 it was the Tory collapse more than TV that helped the Lib Dems. In Richmond Pk Lab went up by 3.8% and in Kingston 3.4%. So 20-25% didn’t vote tactically. And since the coalition we can’t rely on TV as much.

  • Peter Martin 29th Feb '24 - 9:02am

    There are, of course, examples of where parties have won parliamentary elections from third place but, generally speaking, to have a realistic chance at least a second place is needed in the previous election.

    So, if Lib Dems have any ambition to be a significant force in the next Parliament but one and beyond, te emphasis shouldn’t all be about winning Tory seats this time. You need to be going after the Labour Party, who are scarcely any different, too.

    There is a by-election in Rochdale today in which Lib Dems are unlikely to do well. This is despite the facts that both Labour and the Greens don’t have an officially backed candidate, and the Lib Dems held the seat as late as 2010 with Paul Rowan having been elected in 2005 and so having demonstrated that the party could overcome the “Cyril Smith” effect.

    The Lib Dem share of the vote fell from 41% in 2005 to just 7% in 2019. If you’d managed to keep just 20% of the vote you would have had a good chance today. As it is you don’t.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Mar '24 - 9:51am

    @Marco: In 1997 Labour had a very charismatic leader in Tony Blair leading many people to vote Labour on the strength of its national campaign, even in areas where had no chance locally. There isn’t the same enthusiasm for Keir Starmer, so it will be somewhat easier to push back locally against the air war. My experience is that natural Labour voters are open to tactical voting, and the Coalition doesn’t come up on the doorstep very much in Tory-facing areas. The Coalition seems much more likely to come up in Labour-facing seats, especially if Labour sees us as a threat locally (expect to see rose-garden Cleggeron pics from 2010 in Labour leaflets in Sheffield Hallam).

    The reality is that it is much harder for us to campaign against Labour than against the Tories when it’s a Tory government we are looking to depose. In 1997 we lost ground against Labour, losing 2 seats to them (one being Rochdale). This did not prevent us from winning a haul of seats from Labour in 2005. Our immeidate objective is to win enough seats in the next GE for us to still be around to start winning seats from Labour again in the future.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Mar '24 - 9:57am

    Incidentally, I don’t think there is any “Cyril Smith” effect. He held Rochdale until he stepped down despite the rumours about him that were already circulating. We lost Rochdale in 2010 to Labour, in an election in which we should not have lost any seats to Labour. But we also lost Chesterfield to Labour, and the reason for losing both seems most likely to be similar — Cleggmania causing us to take our eyes off the prize, with a lot of candidatitis among Lib Dems in no-hope seats. Our vote then collapsed in both due to the Coalition. In Rochdale there was also a schism in the Lib Dems around 2011–2012, but this was nothing to do with the disgraced former MP. He is unlikely to be a factor now, as voters tend to look to the future rather than the past, and they do not usually sharing the same party label as a disgraced former representative as in itself a reason not to vote for a candidate (if anything the opposite is likely to happen).

  • @ Alex Macfie – The Lib Dems also had a very charismatic leader in 1997! One who developed a much clearer identity where the Lib Dems were seen as the party of education and reforming the political system. If we could get 16% of the vote then why can’t we now?

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