Should Ed Davey apologise for his role in the Horizon scandal?

One question which is being widely asked is whether Ed Davey should apologise for his role in the Horizon scandal.

Those who think he should base their case on the need for the victims, who had their lives ruined, to hear a sincere apology from someone. And, as Ed has already said that he regrets not doing more at the time, why shouldn’t it be him?

But what good would that do? Let’s look at where the heat on Ed is coming from. It’s mostly from the right wing press and so-called news organisations such as GB News. So what are they up to?

The Tories want to simplify this whole 20 year scandal down to Ed Davey’s actions in 2 years as a minister for cynical political reasons. They want a clip of him apologising, alongside a clip of Nick Clegg apologising for tuition fees to play ad nauseam to the very blue wall Tory voters both of us need to vote for us in the upcoming General Election. That’s it. It’s not about justice. It’s not about learning lessons. It’s about them fighting as dirty as they can.

Was Ed’s interview with ITV News yesterday the best one he has ever given? No. But Paul Brand’s agenda was very clearly to get a 30 second clip of Ed looking awkward. His line of questioning was more about public scapegoating than it was about actually getting answers.

In recent years, politicians under scrutiny have just avoided any sort of questioning, hiding in fridges or whatever to avoid prying journalists. At least Ed has showed willing on several occasions to proactively give media interviews and to acknowledge that he wished he had one more.

The victims of the appalling scandal deserve better than singling out a scapegoat. It’s not justice for the prevailing narrative to be “It was all Ed Davey’s fault, we can all pack up and go home now.” That is patently not true. There have been around 16 ministers with this responsibility during this time. And we might have a special mention for those in the past 5 years since the court judgement who have moved with the enthusiasm of a glacier to give justice to the victims.

Alan Bates has been remarkably generous, possibly more so than many of us in the same position would have been, to Ed and other postal affairs ministers, saying that there is not much they could have done given the advice they were getting from their civil servants and given what the Post Office was telling them.

It’s all quite complicated because of the involvement of the judicial system as well. It wasn’t until a Judge who had some understanding of how technology works got his hands on the case that the judgement in the group litigation case was won in 2019.

I think what we need to be saying as a party is that we have to be part of a change in attitude that stops these appalling miscarriages of justice from happening. We’ve seen so many of them. Infected blood,  Windrush, Hillsborough, numerous failures of care in hospitals, WASPI. In all of those things, those affected were dismissed and demeaned.

All politicians and institutions of government need to get better at listening to people who complain of injustice. The culture of dismissing them because “we know best and we can’t be wrong” has to get in the sea.

It has been a collective failure alongside so many others and stopping this sort of thing happening in the future is where our attention should be. Not  piling the blame for this failure on one person who did more than most to look into it.

Do I wish that some of our ministers had done a bit more to try to get to the bottom of this? Maybe. Is it realistic to think that they could have done? Probably not. Are they supposed to have had a magical bullshit detector that beeped whenever they were told a downright lie?

But I sure as hell am not going to let the right wing press, the Conservatives and the likes of GB News get away with pinning the entire blame for this on one single decent human being who has had the humility to say that he wished he had done more. That does nobody any good, not the country, not the victims, nobody.  We need to recognise and call out this agenda for what it is.

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

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  • Sorry, but I think you are wrong here.

    I don’t doubt that Ed was misled by officials as post office minister. But part of being a Lib Dem is challenging the establishment and cosy narratives, and representing individuals. Ed’s letter to Alan Bates went against that. He sent it in 2010 when we had just had an election campaign on how we need to break up the cosy Westminster consensus. Instead he bought into it.

    Should others have done more? Yes
    But should Ed also have done more? Yes
    Are people attacking Ed for political reasons? Yes
    But does Ed also have some responsibility? Yes

    The reason the ITV interview is bad (aside from being a dreadful interview) is that Ed doesn’t accept any real responsibility. If Ed is to get out of this then there has to be some acceptance of his part in all this. From that starting point maybe he can move forward. Until then he looks like another coalition era Lib Dem denying the impact of their choices when faced with difficult questions.

  • Ruth Bright 13th Jan '24 - 2:41pm

    This has cut through, big time. Of course he should apologize. The “line to take” briefing from the party says it was never raised with Ed “on the floor of the house”.

    I was Lib Dem PPC in the seat next to Arbuthnot (former MP for North East Hants). Unlike my Tory opponent in neighbouring East Hants, the man was a legend as a constituency MP and on this issue in particular. We need to know if Arbuthnot ever raised this with Ed “off” the floor of the house.

    A pregnant woman was wrongly jailed, people killed themselves. Warmth, kindness, empathy, apologies. Not much too ask and in no way indicative of any personal liability or direct responsibility on Ed Davey’s part.

  • Paul Barker 13th Jan '24 - 3:12pm

    I would question whether this has Cut Through, certainly parts of the Media have been trying to push it , with some success.
    However, we have known for some time that this would be the dirtiest Election ever – what else have The Tories got ? Our Party needs to develop a thicker skin or The Tory sharks will smell our blood in the water & attack us again & again. We need to be a bit less Nice.
    Will The Tories & their tame Media be able to keep this Story going till The Autumn ? I doubt it, lets wait & see for now.

  • Graham Jeffs 13th Jan '24 - 3:37pm

    Let’s not be naïve about this. Uttering the words “sorry” in these circumstances would mean that the whole responsibility for what has happened would then stick to Ed Davey – as Caron describes. Expressing regret for having been misled is different.

    Among my personal failings I would include being almost over-tenacious. I am also a finance person with wide experience of multi-site operations. I have asked myself whether I would have twigged that I was being lied to, given the consistency with which these lies were being proffered – and apparently by so many people.

    I think the answer is that it might well have taken some time…….. I’m no great fan of the current leadership in general, but I really don’t think I can support in any way the opportunistic criticism of Ed Davey by our enemies. And we would be wise not to ape them.

  • Why didn’t just say he was sorry? Sorry that this happened. Sorry that the lies and deceit that caused went unchecked. Sorry that he allowed himself to be misled along with everyone else. Sorry it took so long for the truth to come out. Sorry that even now, after the tv programme and all the publicity, we still don’t have the answers or know who was responsible and why. Critically, what will he do with this regret? Set out how he personally will work to get the truth out and make sure lessons are learned. Why not just do that? It’s not too late.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Jan '24 - 3:57pm

    Have any of the labour or tory MPs who held the ministerial office covering the post services asked any questions about the scandal during their tenure? I’m not aware of any.

    Ed’s wikipedia entry states:-
    “He was, however, the first and only Post Office Minister to meet Alan Bates, the founder of the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance, with this meeting taking place in October 2010.”

    I thought it was a company’s officers who were responsible for everything done by that company. Not the shareholder’s representative.

  • The interviewer was asking Ed for an apology…Ed should have apologised..

    The words “I sincerely apologise for not putting the the complaints of sub-postmasters above the assurances of Post Office management; however, since 2015, there have been eight Conservative Post Office ministers all of whom had access to far more evidence than I”, firmly puts the onus back on the interviewer to justify singling out Ed..

    In subsequent interviews with other PO ministers the interview line will be, “Ed Davey has apologised WILL YOU?”

    Not a triumph but far better than, “Ed Davey refuses to apologise……”

  • David Allen 13th Jan '24 - 4:40pm

    Well it’s a hard test, but it was predictable, and so there was plenty of time to prepare a good answer. Mike Bell, above, has passed the test. The trick is NOT to refuse to use the word “sorry”, but also, NOT to make a direct admission (or denial) of substantial culpability. Mike Bell’s line “Sorry that he allowed himself to be misled along with everyone else.” would have been perfect. That would have expressed genuine contrition, together with the acceptance that like many others, he hadn’t actually played a blinder.

  • Neil Hickman 13th Jan '24 - 4:55pm

    I despair of the fact that it is only when the matter becomes the subject of a television drama (and Sunak realises that there is an election coming and he needs to be Seen To Be Doing Something) that the British public, and their elected representatives, are roused from their torpor.
    It is now nearly 3 years since the Court of Appeal (in the face of opposition from the Post Office) declared that most of the prosecutions were “an affront to the conscience of the court”.
    It is nearly 5 years since a High Court Judge excoriated the Post Office in spectacularly strong terms (“This approach by the Post Office… amounts to the 21st century equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat.”).
    It is over 10 years since the interim Second Sight report described the Horizon system as “not fit for purpose”.
    And it is coming up to FIFTEEN YEARS since Computer Weekly first ran the story.
    We are looking at the biggest conspiracy to pervert the course of justice in the history of the English legal system, and it will do no harm to emphasise that. Because even if “Ed Davey could/should have done more”, not even Lee Anderson suggests that Ed was part of that conspiracy.
    By the way, the judge in 2019 asked for Fujitsu’s conduct to be referred to the DPP. Might a question or two be in order as to what has happened to that?

  • There are many former ministers who could have done more and they should all apologise whilst explaining that they were misled. James Arbuthnot MP was willing to meet with sub postmasters when others weren’t. I agree though that the right wing press are being ridiculous by singling out Davey and Starmer.

  • Ruth Bright 13th Jan '24 - 5:36pm

    Paul, we heard it on the doorstep this morning. The TV programme featured popular actors in a peak slot. Believe me, it has cut through.

  • Peter Watson 13th Jan '24 - 6:03pm

    I think a big problem here for the party is that its strategy for the last few years has simply been to present Lib Dems as “not the horrid Tories”. Media coverage of this affair – including a former postmistress threatening to stand against Davey – undermine that, and given that the party has not promoted any other reason to vote for it, it is little wonder that its opponents are trying to make the most of this.

  • Paul Barker 13th Jan '24 - 7:04pm

    The Tory line on this is there are 3 Villains – Davie, Starmer & in Scotland, Yousaf. By some strange coincidence they all happen to lead Parties that are rivals to The Tories. You couldn’t make it up but The Tories can & if we believe them we deserve to lose.
    Lets all calm down & see if this nonsense can be kept up for even a Month.

  • Anthony Acton 13th Jan '24 - 7:43pm

    I’m afraid all this is just going to get worse and worse for Ed. It’s very unfair for so much of the blame to be laid at his door, but we know from the last 3 elections that once the Tories sell their friends in the media a good attack line on the LD leader, they won’t let go until after the election is over. With Nick it was tuition fees, with Tim it was his Christian faith, and remember how Fiona Bruce taunted Jo Swinson during her GE Question Time programme? With Ed it will be Horizon, again and again and again.

  • Graham Jeffs 13th Jan '24 - 7:44pm

    Peter Watson – you are absolutely correct.

  • Leekliberal 13th Jan '24 - 7:52pm

    @Peter Watson – How true! The party activists have for some time been seriously worried about the inability, or worse, unwillingness of our leadership to give the voters any vision of what a Lib Dem UK would look like. This lead to the Guardian letter that evoked a savage response from Sir Ed whose only action was to sack our Europe spokeswoman for signing it. There is plenty of advice on Lib Dem Voice as to how we could be so much more effective in getting our message across to the voters. All we can do is to keep on discussing this in the hope that our leader’s finally get it, but time is running out.

  • David Allen 13th Jan '24 - 7:53pm

    Right now, the Tory attacks on Davey and other political opponents over the Post Office scandal might seem to be ineffective. It’s fresh news, so people temporarily have a good grasp of the issues, and what they want is justice. They don’t want to see the Tories scapegoating their opponents and playing cynical party games.

    Fast forward to election time several months away, and everything will have changed. The Post Office, as yesterday’s news, will only be dimly remembered. The debates will be on quite different subjects, and the Tories will be challenged over their many egregious failings over the past thirteen years. They will need to answer back, and they will have their one-liner put-downs well prepared. “There speaks the man who betrayed the innocent sub-postmasters, and he couldn’t even bring himself to say sorry when he got found out!”

  • David Sheppard 14th Jan '24 - 12:08am

    I’m afraid Ed’s in a no win position. There is only time and a good set of local elections that will heal this .

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '24 - 9:12am

    @David Allen: If Ed apologised, their taunt would be “There speaks the man who betrayed the innocent sub-postmasters, and he admitted it himself.” We would lose either way. We need to play political and (if necessary) legal hardball to discredit that the charges against Ed. It’s the only way he can come out of it unscathed, and it appears to be the party’s strategy. Remember the (now discredited) claim that Keir Starmer helped Jimmy Savile escape justice? The smear campaign against Ed is the same sort of thing. And of course Keir Starmer is under “scrutiny” from the Tory press over what he knew and did as DPP about Post Office prosecutions.

  • As @Anthony Acton says, this will likely be the persistent attack line against Ed for the next GE campaign, after gay sex for Tim and coalition for Jo.

    What I do find frustrating is that these attacks are entirely predictable, yet our Leaders seem to be caught by surprise by them and make a poor initial response that gives the story legs. Isn’t it someone’s job to predict this stuff and prepare our Leaders with a better response that minimises rather than amplifies the issue? A press release stating that Ed was the first (and only?) minister to meet Alan Bates and he very much regrets that he was deceived by the parties involved would have been a good story if it was released *first*, rather than as a panicked rebuttal to a biased “news” story that he had refused to meet him. If you’re explaining, you’re losing….

    The Tories aren’t going to suddenly start playing nice this time round.

  • There are lessons in this for the learning. Like it or not this will have a negative impact on Ed Davey. Polls are already showing that. When I get on my bus, have a coffee in my local café, this is the most talked about issue I can recall. It won’t go away. When Nick Clegg took people in to Government, whether it he took away the Lib Dem’s role as the party of protest. The one that you could vote for because at least they were a bit different from the others. Ed Davey was clearly misled by Officials. As anyone who has run a Council knows. That’s what ‘Officials’ do. Anyone who purports to be “of the people” has to demonstrate that. Even when ‘Officials’ are saying differently. I don’t blame Ed entirely for being suckered in to the system. I don’t know who the current gaggle of advisers around Ed Davey are. But they don’t seem to be giving him very good advice right now. If he wants to retrieve this he needs to show he is genuinely sorry which I am sure he is. He needs to trust his instinct and tell whoever is advising him to pipe down. If he really does need advice then he will be better getting it from the Postmasters and Mistresses. Ask them direct what do they want from him, as well as all the other Tory and Labour Ministers who sided with the Post Office over the years.

  • Roger Billins 14th Jan '24 - 10:08am

    It’s not only the right wing press. Ed features prominently in today’s Observer. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and, with hindsight, he should have done more. This could go either way. It could gather momentum and force Ed to resign or, it could be forgotten as news moves on to other issues. Either way it will do us harm. Being a Liberal/Lib Dem can be a very frustrating business !

  • I agree with many previous comments that it would have been almost impossible for this interview to have gone anything other than badly for Ed. However, it went worse than it needed to. I think it would have been possible for him to use the word ‘sorry’, while making it clear that others (including other politicians) have far more to say sorry for.

    In particular, the most significant development since 2019 has been the ITV series that galvanised public opinion. The actions that the Government has proposed in the last few days could equally have been proposed in 2019. After the court judgement, no competent Post Office Minister could be unaware of the Horizon scandal. So, the Post Office Ministers and Prime Ministers since 2019 should say sorry for not taking this action earlier.

  • While I would have hoped at least one of the politicians with responsibility for Post Office affairs over the years of this ongoing travesty would have seen through the lies and deceit directed at them by representatives of both the Post Office and Fujitsu it has become pretty clear where the majority of blame should be directed. It seems that their behaviour it endemic in people who hold sway over our lives as events over the last few years have confirmed?

  • Big Tall Tim 14th Jan '24 - 10:49am

    No he shouldn’t apologise. He has said absolutely the right response. He has nothing to apologise for. It is also the case that if he did, ALL the blame would immediately be on him and not the 18 Tory ministers involved. Get real.

  • Big Tall Tim 14th Jan '24 - 10:55am

    But a good post from Nick Bird in an ideal world. What it forgotten is that our Leader has a tiny staff resource compared to the Tories and Labour. And more often than not, that staff doesn’t have the cynical skills needed. Sometimes, I think some people on LDV are either not LD voters anyway or even if they are, like nothing better than to use any issue to attack our Leader.

  • Big Tall Tim 14th Jan '24 - 10:57am

    I entirely agree with Alex Macfie

  • Graham Jeffs 14th Jan '24 - 11:04am

    Nick Baird – “predictable”. What you describe is a direct extension of the points made by Peter Watson.

    Time and time again people have been saying that a campaign based on ‘get rid of the Tories’ is inadequate – I would say ‘shallow’. We implicitly criticise others for not looking ahead, for not creating credible strategies (as opposed to mere promises) and for not recognising or identifying the ramifications or consequences of a particular course of action or inaction. Yet here we are!

    Is it really too much to ask that we be both heard and listened to?

    This is a collective failure by the leadership of the party. It’s called ineptitude.

  • Eddie Rippeth 14th Jan '24 - 11:27am

    This is a vicious, concerted and wholly unfair attack on Ed Davey which nonetheless has caused damage.

    From the ITV interview, it doesn’t appear Davey and advisors know how to properly respond.
    They need to either strongly rebut accusations by showing Ed as a man who put pressure on the Post Office – he, after all, met Alan Bates, and a year or so later the Post Office caved in to hold the Second Sight inquiry. If they can prove positive actions on Ed’s part, then show it, and how the Post Office subsequently tried to sabotage and block the inquiry.

    If they can’t do that, then apologise. I’m never sure what the precise difference between between regret and apology is. Perhaps done in person to Alan Bates or postmasters. Ed is a good man with a remarkable back story, and one who knows empathy.

    Whatever, it can’t be left with that ITV interview.

    The one potential piece of good news is that this story is now blowing up in the face of the Tories who have real, much bigger questions to answer. They may not want to talk about the Post Office affair come election time.

  • Beyond the Tory finger pointing (Labour have yet to get in on the act), there is a much wider argument about trying the marketise every aspect of our lives.
    The drive to extract profits from the post office at the expense of any public service ideals seems to be at least partly at the root of the Horizon scandal.
    Similar accusations could be levelled at other quasi privatisations, particularly those under the Blair government. Eg the mouldy homes scandal in Rochdale. I’m surprised that neither us nor Labour has suggested these organisations should be brought I’m under tighter public accountability, rather than the “arms length” arrangement which is palpably failing the public it’s meant to serve.
    Yes Ed needs to sharpen up his act on this, but some of the above comments seem to want us to run up the white flag just before the next general election.

  • Alex Macfie – I think you are quite wrong to argue that Davey’s defence to the PO allegations should match Starmer’s defence to the Savile allegations. Starmer can prove that he had absolutely no responsibility for Savile. So his “hardball” response to discredit the Tory smear stands up. Davey’s position is more equivocal.

    I agree that any response which indicated a significant admission of personal guilt would have been both politically unwise and unduly concessionary, But the word “sorry” should not have been avoided. Please read above e.g. the posts by Will, Mike Bell, expats and myself, all of which indicate how the circle could have been effectively squared.

  • Neil James Sandison 14th Jan '24 - 12:27pm

    Unfortunately a by-election stunt will not get Ed Davey off this particular hook . As a Coalition minister for postal services he has to take responsibility for his time in office . That he and other ministers before and after him were mislead raises questions of accountability and when a whistle blower gets the ear of a minister will they be listened to , Ed Davey painful interview will come back to haunt the Liberal Democrats and could cost us politically in blue wall seats .

  • Chris Moore 14th Jan '24 - 1:41pm

    Big Tall Tim,

    Labour were in power in the years from 1999-2010, so many of the postal ministers were Labour.

  • Neil Hickman 14th Jan '24 - 1:59pm

    I don’t think any of the politicians come out of this saga smelling of roses.
    But if (as seems inevitable) the Tories want to play at slinging mud, perhaps it should be pointed out that both Ed Davey and Theresa May went against the advice of their civil servants. Ed Davey went against advice from his civil servants and met Alan Bates. Theresa May went against the advice of hers and gave a CBE to Vennells.

  • Paul Murray 14th Jan '24 - 3:19pm

    This is not good enough by Ed Davey.

    The first investigative report on the Horizon scandal was in Computer Weekly (a highly reputable IT trade journal) in May 2009 – at a time when Peter Mandelson was the relevant minister. The report is here: Alan Bates is listed as one of the five “case studies” and is quoted as saying that there should be a public inquiry.

    If Computer Weekly is a bit too geeky then perhaps Sir Ed might have given some attention to the article “Computer says no” in the 30 September 2011 edition of Private Eye, available here:

    The article says that in response to questions from the MPs of people wrongly accused by the Post Office “Ed Davey is washing his hands of the problem, simply re-directing MPs’ questions to the Post Office itself”.

    This was never good enough from Davey. It is incumbent upon ministers to ask difficult questions and not simply accept the word of managers with “skin in the game”. He failed to ask the right questions. He should apologise.

  • Given the evidence and PO documents that have been put into the public domain, it is clear civil servants and potentially ministers knew something wasn’t right at the PO back then. I thus wonder whether there was more to appointing Ed as the PO minister; perhaps some thought things would blow up sooner and better someone else got soiled…

    I think Ed and other politicians need to use their Westminster privilege and respond by listing the names of the PO senior management et al, implicated by the released documentation.

  • Big Tall Tim 14th Jan '24 - 3:21pm

    Thanks Chris Moore. Very well said Neil.

  • So when it comes to the crunch, we’re not much different to Cons & Labour
    What are going to offer that they do not?

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '24 - 5:02pm

    @Neil James Sandison: I don’t think our potential voters in the Blue Wall typically read the Tory gutter press, let alone believe everything they read in it. People who are turning away from the Tories are probably not inclined to trust anything the Tories say. We’re talking mostly about the educated middle class here. It’s *Red* Wall Tories who are more likely to (i) read the gutter press, and (ii) believe what they read in it. And they’re not people likely to ever vote for us. If you take your political cues from Tory media apparatchiks, you probably aren’t a potential Lib Dem voter.

    @David Allen: Keir Starmer was the Head of the CPS, so he *was* formally responsible for every prosecution. As Postal Affairs Minister, Ed had no responsibility whatsoever for the day to day operations of the Post Office. He did not authorise prosecutions, and had no power to stop them. He could liaise with the PO, but it appears that he (and all other Postal Affairs Ministers) ran into the same brick wall when doing so. so actually the idea that Keir Starmer could have prosecuted Savile is more plausible than Ed having any control over the PO. Both are superficially plausible claims which on closer inspection are easy to debunk.

  • It’s unfair Ed’s getting the blame for things outwith his control etc. etc., but he should have said sorry. Mike Bell is right and I’m frustrated to the point of anger that he failed to do so. Not saying sorry suggests a lack of empathy for the victims and makes him look weak.

    You don’t need to spend long on social media to realise that the attack lines went out to the right-wing press and the bot farms, to be lapped up and amplified by Tory supporters who are invigorated by the opportunity to deflect from the failings of their side. Of course an apology wouldn’t stop them, or be reported in good faith, but the failure to apologise gives them new ammunition. It’s a kick in the teeth for the victims of the scandal & for LD candidates and activists who would rather be calling out those most responsible.

    Most people are forgiving. Most understand that Ed’s role was minor, and mistakes were a result of naivety not malice. They could see a disproportionate amount of blame was going his way and a sincere apology would have gone a long way to encouraging fair-minded wanting to defend a good man from attacks. Enough time has passed he can reasonably have learned lessons. A failure to apologise makes him look as bad as everyone else trying to wriggle out of taking responsibility.

  • Alex Macfie 14th Jan '24 - 6:23pm

    @Fiona [& others]: “the failure to apologise gives them new ammunition”. And apologising would do the same. Remember how it worked (or didn’t) for Nick Clegg (for something for which he *did* have responsibility)? An important thing about the right-wing press and bot farms is they don’t care about the truth, and will use whatever Ed says against him. The other thing about it is that people who typically consume right-wing social media and the gutter press are mostly not our potential supporters. so surrendering to them is the worst possible option. They would only crow that they were right, it shows Ed was the main person responsible for the scandal.

  • Nonconformistradical 14th Jan '24 - 6:56pm

    “You don’t need to spend long on social media to realise that the attack lines went out to the right-wing press and the bot farms”
    Maybe so – I don’t look at that stuff.

    But isn’t it interesting that it was a good old-fashioned TV drama which finally got people worked up and (hopefully) got things moving.

  • Chris Moore 14th Jan '24 - 8:10pm

    Hi Alex,

    1. If we are ever to be a dominant liberal party like the Liberals in Canada, we are going to have to move out of our comfort zone and appeal to red wall voters.

    2.Yhe reality is that although post ministers from all parties were lied to and fell for the lies of PO executives, it is our current LEADER who was one of these hapless ministers. Theose from other parties were minor figures comparatively. Hence, I’m afraid it’s more damaging for us.

    3. I personally would like us to move on to post-Coalition leadership. I say this with much regret as I’ve appreciated and defended the current lesdership’s overall political strategy of positioning the party as part of the movement for renewal and change.

  • Surely laying the blame for at the door of innocent people is exactly what the Post Office scandal is all about. A computer system was badly implemented, and to save their skin the powerful blame whoever they can, and people’s lives were ruined. That is exactly what is now happening to Ed Davey: his part in this was naive, innocent and pretty much blameless, just like the sub-postmasters. The real questions that need to be asked are about who is covering up what, and why they are so afraid to come clean about the roles of Conservative ministers. What is their link to Fujitsu? Why do they keep giving contracts to them? Why did the Post Office not come clean back in 2000-1 or so, and do the right thing by investigating and demanding that Fujitsu start fixing the bugs? Why is no-one in the media even naming the long succession of Tory ministers that came after Ed, and did nothing? Are the media under gagging orders not to name Tories? Why were no-one in the legal profession asking the obvious questions about why suddenly the Post Office was prosecuting so many of its own people? When those questions get asked, Ed’s role in this will be seen for what it is: a mere footnote.

  • Big Tall Tim 14th Jan '24 - 11:50pm

    We are different. Ed met the Campaigners. Not straight away, but he did Theresa May gave the PO CEO a CBE! We are different. We’re internationalists. We support constitutional and electoral reform, that will completely change this country’s current rotten politics. We aim to to gain power to give it away. We are different We spend too much time beating up our leaders, when that time should be spent beating up our opponents.

  • Facts. Ed Davey went against advice from his civil servants and met Alan Bates. Theresa May went against the advice of hers and gave a CBE to Vennells.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jan '24 - 7:23am

    The Sunday Times yesterday named and shamed four Tory former Postal Affairs Ministers for “intransigence” faced by Alan Bates
    “Alan Bates letters show Tories ignored the postmasters too”

    Also i paper reports “Tory politicians accused of ‘breath-taking hypocrisy’ over Post Office scandal”

    [Using archive links as they should be permanent and have no annoying paywalls etc.]

  • David Evans 15th Jan '24 - 7:29am

    The real problem, as I have said before, is that at the very start of coalition we allowed ourselves to accept the old failed conventions – Cabinet Collective Responsibility and Ministerial Responsibility for every action of his/her department.

    Hence we as a party were
    1) sucked into supporting a lot of new things we didn’t agree with,

    but even worse
    2) effectively stopped holding government bureaucracy to account and instead totally supported them,

    and even, even worse
    3) had to support the department in public even when things had gone wrong in the past.

    Also the minister virtually became a full time supporter of the bureaucracy and no one else had any time or influence to look into things (like Horizon) which needed looking into.

    Being a Portfolio holder in a council is easy if like the old parties you just go with the flow.

    Being a good, effective Lib Dem Portfolio holder, who represents the community and not the bureaucracy is much more difficult.

  • Tristan Ward 15th Jan '24 - 10:02am

    This (from Ian Hislop) is worth a look.

  • True David. I hope we’ve learned from that time.

    Ian Dunt was talking about one of the problems of British politics, especially recently, is the merry go round of cabinet ministers. People don’t have time to grow into their brief, and are therefore at the mercy of advice, and their own ego and desire to appear more knowledgeable than they are.

    At the start of a brand new government it is inevitable that all ministers are inexperienced. A lot was going on at the time, and it is understandable that Ed didn’t take complaints as seriously as we all now know they deserved to be. But now we all know better it is right to say sorry.

    As I type, I’m listening to a press conference about the grooming gangs scandal in Rochdale. I’ve heard multiple sincere sounding apologies for the hurt and harm from people who I presume were not directly or even indirectly responsible. That’s to their credit.

  • Plus last sentence, which I inadvertently didn’t copy in.

    And being a government minister is much, much more demanding.

  • The Tories are expecting to lose the General Election, and are in damage limitation mode.
    They know that they stand to lose seats in the south of England to Lib Dems, so are trying to stem any losses. SO they are trying to imply that Ed was fully responsible although he was only Minister for 2 years. Equally Labour want to keep reminding people that there was a coalition a decade ago, so they can pin the blame for what has happened since on us as ‘enablers’ of Tory austerity.

    Alan Bates has been very fair about Ed’s role, and the draft statement suggested by Dr. David Nicholl above should be used and repeated whenever the question is asked by Tory and Labour supporting reporters.

  • Hello Fiona,

    Thank you for your positive endorsement. Usually when I post it no-one comments, but I keep saying it, because in fact


    (Please excuse shouty bit. It’s not focused on you at all).

    The one thing I would say, is that in my opinion as a professional auditor and reviewer of systems of all types – computer based, bureaucratic and administrative, we haven’t learned the real lessons, just the ones easy to get agreed.

    Indeed, I would add that despite all the reports produced after almost every election (2010 didn’t have one for some reason) , I can see no evidence we have learned anything like enough from coalition and no-one ever sets out what we have learned on anything especially if it applies to them.

    That is also why, when people say we have to move on from coalition, I simply ask “In which direction?”

    All the best,


  • @Fiona: The difference with the grooming gangs is that no-one (apart from the far right) tries to weaponise the issue. It will only be safe for Ed or any other Lib Dem to apologise once we can be sure it won’t be seized on by our enemies to say it was entirely our fault.

  • Roger Billins 15th Jan '24 - 4:08pm

    The Standard headline today “ Sir Hypocrite “ shows the direction of travel of this story. It isn’t going away.

  • I think he should apologise because it’s the right thing to do. The fact that his lack of apology is being jumped on (IMO more than an actual apology would, but we’re all guessing here) is incidental. An appropriate apology would have helped to create a bit of extra space between us and the failures of the Conservatives. Failing to do so lumps us in with them.

    The Post Office Scandal has been known about to varying degrees for some time, with growing awareness. This is just one of dozens of scandals that should have had a lot more attention, and we should be playing a role in exposing those and championing those who have been let down by the system. How do we do that effectively when our leader can’t bring himself to say sorry for his role, however minor, in another scandal?

    I’ve been around long enough to realise that effective politics means compromise is often more important than purity, and sometimes our leadership has to say things that are aimed at swing voters who aren’t me. Maybe it doesn’t matter if members like me would be more comfortable supporting the party if Ed had apologised, but which demographic finds it attractive?

  • @Chris Love, 14 Jan 4:07pm

    Well said, Chris: “When it comes to the crunch, we’re not much different to the Cons and Labour. What are we going to offer that they do not?”

    There is one important thing LDs do offer, and that is creative foresight.
    Nearly two years ago LDV carried a challenge from a prominent correspondent — to come up with a Lib Dem “Big Idea”. The challenge flopped then — but it survives:

    Boris has pretty well scuppered the Tories.
    Labour choose to take up their own dulness.

    The Lib Dems look beyond this year’s small beer, to the arrival, round about 2029,
    of PR — and its first General Election!

    With that EVERYTHING will change. (Not inevitably for the better, of course! — but it could hardly be for the worse, surely?) How many Parties, THEN, in the House of Commons? I guess ten.

    Please see LDV on Friday 1 December 2023 for an outline “UBI and PR will work together”
    [ and preferably replace “UBI” with “NATIONAL INCOME DIVIDEND” –same thing,better put!]

  • Alex Macfie 15th Jan '24 - 9:54pm

    That’s the freesheet owned by Tory peer Lord Lebedev of Siberia, son of a KGB agent, put in the Lords by Johnson. Sometimes Russian interference is hiding in plain sight, not on the Dark Web.
    Doing the “right thing” (even if you assume it is) is no good if we don’t get the credit for it, and our enemies take advantage of it.

  • The party is led by people who think that getting a lot of disgruntled Conservatives to vote Liberal Democrat is the way forward but all the evidence seems to be that those who have decided not to vote Tory intend to abstain until a new leader with a more traditional approach is appointed so the whole exercise will lead to a temporary uplift followed by another Conservative government. We need entirely different policies which will appeal to the many who are desperate for change and looking for a new leader who is not associated with the Coalition or even the Labour Party.

  • Chris Moore 14th Jan ’24 – 1:41pm
    Big Tall Tim, Labour were in power in the years from 1999-2010, so many of the postal ministers were Labour….

    So, whilst criticising the Tories for blaming LibDems, your answer is to blame Labour..


  • Anselm Anonymous 16th Jan '24 - 2:09pm

    It should be taken as read that our political opponents will deploy this unfairly. But an apology is essential, not because Ed has been worse than the other ministers involved, but because we should be looking for liberals to do much much better than the manageralist mediocrity (or worse) in much of the Conservatives and Labour. If LDs can’t make a tangible positive difference (and we often do at local level), then why vote for us? We shouldn’t aim to be a slightly less bad version of the status quo, especially in this liberal case which pits individuals against the combined power of big business and a quasi-state entity.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Jan '24 - 2:42pm

    I think that Ed apologising for his part in this affair would be beneficial to the Party, the system and the country. Others can debate what his part was. If it seems he did play a part an apology costs nothing if clearly defined and explained within the context at the time.

  • Chris Moore 16th Jan '24 - 4:45pm


    Postal Ministers in the period from 1999-2024 came from all three parties: Labour 1999-2010, LD 2010-2015. Tory 2015-2024.

    I see no reason to deliberately get that factually wrong and airbrush Labour out of the picture.

    Are you a Labour supporter?

    None of those 19 ministers covered themselves in glory, Ed included.

  • Are any of the ex-Minsters, including Sir Edward, going to give evidence to the Public Enquiry ?

    If, as it has been suggested, Sir Edward was the only Post Office Minister to meet with Mr Alan Bates, it would be interesting to hear why nothing actually came from that meeting back in 2012.

  • Chris Moore 17th Jan '24 - 7:17am

    Hello David Raw,

    When it came down to it, Ed believed the lies he was told about Horizon by post office executives, rather than the experiences of postmasters/mistresses conveyed to him by Alan Bates.

    All the other ministers up till 2015 made implicitly or explicitly the same judgement.

    Post 2015, the post ministers have in some ways been worse: at that point it became crystal clear that Horizon was faulty and there had been hundreds of unsafe prosecutions. Yet foot-dragging by ministers has compounded Fujitsu’s and the PO’s obstructionism and lying.

  • I’m obliged to Chris Moore for his opinion.

    It would clarify matters, however, (indeed I think it essential) – if every former Post Office Minister be required to give evidence to the Public Enquiry. As to post 2015 being worse, there appears to be a general consensus that there were serious questions about the Horizon system going back to at least 2009.

    Ministers believing lies from officials ? Any student of political history knows the great political leaders are the ones with the knack and good judgement to be able to sniff out the truth….. no matter what obscuration is put in their way by unelected officials.

  • Chris Moore, If the argument is that Ed Davey didn’t have the Information between 2010-12 why would we try and implicate earlier P.O. ministers who had even less cause to question the Post Office ‘information’?
    The consensus is that the first questions were raised in the ‘geeky’ Computer Weekly’ in 2009, with Private Eye being the first media outlet to highlight the issue in late 2011; from then on BBC ‘Panorama coverage and the Second Sight investigation first initiated in July 2012 at the request of members of parliament (who were these MPs?) made the situation clearer and clearer..The argument, “They are all as bad as one another” is the worst possible defence in any situation…

    As for your, “Are you a Labour supporter?”..That was thrown at me, and others, when I criticised this party for its performance in the coalition years and is the reason I stopped posting on this site several years ago..

  • @David Raw: Unlikely that Ed or any other previous government minister will be required to give evidence to the inquiry, as its scope of the inquiry does not appear to include the actions of government ministers.

    This is perhaps a reflection of the peripheral nature of their role in the scandal. Certainly if one is called then they all have to be. But ultimately this is a corporate governance failure, not a political failure. The only “ministers” being called are of the other kind, like the disgraced former PO CEO.

    Our system of government relies on Government Ministers being able to trust civil servants. If they can’t, then there is a big problem. And ignoring official advice cuts both ways. Ed agreed to meet Alan Bates, against the advice of officials, while Theresa May conferred an honour on Paula Vennells against the official advice. Margaret Thatcher gave Jimmy Savile a knighthood against advice of civil servants.

  • Alex Macfie: Thank you for the reference in paragraph 1. I would like to see references for the statements in paragraph 3. Paragraph 2 fails to mention the failure of the judicial system to recognise unsafe evidence, and I do not see that issue raised much in the media or in the Scope of the Inquiry. Trust in, and responsibility of, the Civil Service does seem to be lacking in this and other issues for at least the last 10 years.

  • This was only able to be an orchestrated campaign is because Ed Davey was caught out by it.

    The correct response should have been (unpromoted):
    “I would a like to apologise to the victims of the Post Office scandal, and call on all the other current and former ministers to do the same, from 2000 – 2015 we should all reflect on how we missed the failings that led to so much suffering. Those of us who were Post Office ministers but also those justice ministers who should have seen such an abnormally large number of successful prosecutions in the court system. Also, any one at the Treasury who applied pressures that may have incentivised officials to hide the failures.”

    This was a catastrophic failure across so many areas and over a huge period of time, taking responsibility but also pointing out how there is a really big issue here that cannot be missed if we want to avoid this in the future.

  • Alex Macfie 25th Jan '24 - 7:16pm

    Theresa May’s government ‘pushed for Paula Vennells CBE despite concerns over Post Office scandal’

    This was in the 2019 New Year Honours list, when it was clear that the Post Office was likely to lose the court case against Mr Bates et al.

    Also worth noting was the admission by the Tories that Paula Vennels should have been sacked from her Cabinet Office role after the PO lost the court case.

    Ed Davey attacks Post Office ‘conspiracy of lies’ as he defends role in scandal
    “Davey was the first post office minister to meet Alan Bates, the post office operator who led the campaign, despite advice from officials. “Initially I was told not to, but I insisted when I read some of his letters because I could hear his anger. I took his arguments to the Post Office but I was lied to,” he said.”

    And finally
    Thatcher lobbied for Savile knighthood despite warnings (from 2013)

  • Alex Macfie 25th Jan '24 - 7:25pm

    @Steve Nash: Agree 100% on judicial failings; there is also a legislative error that does not get the attention that it should, namely the assumption in law that computer evidence is reliable. This is due to a 1999 change in law (thus by the Blair government); before that, a 1984 law held that “computer evidence was only admissible if it could be shown that the computer was used and operating properly”. It’s unlikely that any of the Post Office prosecutions would have succeeded under the 1984 law.
    The PO lobbied for the change in law.

    I suspect that whatever Ed were to say would be used against him by our partisan enemies. The formulation suggested by @FS People (and @Martin in another thread) would be called “whataboutery”. Anyway I think it’s unlikely that the Tories will seriously try to attack Ed over the PO scandal in the next GE campaign, because of the risk that it’ll draw attention to the far bigger errors made by individual Conservative politicians.

  • Generally, politicians should apologise more often though only for what they might be responsible for. Conditional apologies would allow individuals to declare how far they are prepared to go. Apologising for what was nothing to do with you makes no sense and debases the act and making fair and timely apolgies acknowledges that we are all human and make mistakes.

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