15 June 2024

Profile: Who is Sir Ed Davey?

15 June 2024

Doggedly determined Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey has spent much of his life struggling to overcome setbacks and adversity.

Having risen to become a cabinet minister in David Cameron’s Conservative-Lib Dem coalition, he suffered the humiliation of losing his Commons seat when his party suffered a near wipeout in the 2015 general election.

His first attempt at the party leadership ended in defeat when he was well-beaten by Jo Swinson – by a majority of almost two to one – in the 2019 contest to succeed Sir Vince Cable.

More recently his efforts to lift the Lib Dems out of the political doldrums, where they have languished for most of the last decade, have been hit by disclosures over his role as minister amid the Post Office Horizon IT scandal.

From early childhood Sir Ed became accustomed to adversity, losing his father when he was just four, followed by the death of his mother from cancer when he was 15.

Along with his two brothers, he found himself thrust into the role of unpaid carer during her final illness – a role he was to repeat first for his grandmother and then, years later, with his wife Emily when their first child John was born severely disabled.

Difficulties at home, however, did not stop him excelling academically, becoming head boy at the fee-paying Nottingham High School and winning a place at Jesus College, Oxford, where he got a first in philosophy, politics and economics.

Having worked for the Lib Dems as an economics researcher, at the age of 31 he entered Parliament at the first attempt, taking the Tory-held seat of Surbiton at the 1997 general election.

He later admitted his victory, by a margin of just 56 votes, had come as something of a shock and that he had been banking on another five years as a management consultant before committing to a full-time career in politics.

At Westminster, he was associated with the “Orange Book” group of Lib Dems – including future leader Sir Nick Clegg – who argued for an economically liberal, free market approach to dealing with social problems, to the consternation of some on the left of the party.

He was an outspoken critic of what he described as the “nanny state” policies of the Labour government to ban all smoking in pubs and to impose new restrictions on gambling machines.

More widely he made a mark tabling the clause which repealed Section 28 – the Thatcher-era law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools.

Having held a series of frontbench posts under Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, he was given the foreign affairs brief by Sir Nick when he became leader in 2007.

His argumentative streak surfaced when he was suspended from the Commons for a day for contesting a ruling by the Speaker excluding a Lib Dem motion calling for a referendum on the UK staying in the EU (which they supported).

When the Lib Dems joined the Conservatives in forming a coalition following the 2010 general election, he entered government in the relatively lowly position of a junior business minister.

However when fellow Lib Dem Chris Huhne was forced to resign for illegally dodging speeding points, Sir Ed was promoted to the cabinet as energy and climate change secretary.

In that role, he championed the expansion of both renewables and nuclear to reduce carbon emissions as well as foreign investment in the UK energy sector by countries such as China.

He was so vigorous in his support for deregulation and energy market liberalisation that even one Tory minister complained that he was “a bit right wing for me”.

When, in the 2015 general election, the Lib Dems paid the price for their support for the Conservatives – losing all but eight of their seats – Sir Ed was among the high-profile casualties.

As consolation, he accepted a knighthood.

His return, however, was swift, regaining his seat – which had been redrawn as Kingston and Surbiton – in the 2017 election on another otherwise disappointing night for the Lib Dems.

He chose not to run in the ensuing leadership contest, citing family reasons, but following the resignation of Sir Vince two years later he threw his hat in the ring only to lose out to Ms Swinson.

When she too quit following the Lib Dems’ “high-speed car crash” of a campaign in the 2019 general election, Sir Ed was by far the most experienced contender to succeed her, beating Layla Moran by a similar margin to that by which he had been defeated in the previous contest.

He has benefited from the turmoil which has engulfed the Conservative Party, with the Lib Dems notching up an impressive series of by-election victories in hitherto safe Tory “blue wall” constituencies.

He suffered a knockback however when he was criticised by Alan Bates, who led the campaign for justice for sub-postmasters wrongly convicted in the Horizon scandal, for initially refusing to meet him when he was business minister with responsibility for postal affairs.

The disclosure led to calls from Tory MPs for the Lib Dem leader – who has never been slow in calling for others to quit – to stand down and to hand back his knighthood.

The Lib Dems insist it is unfair for him to be singled out in this way, arguing that he was only one of a series of postal ministers, from all three main parties, to hold office over the course of the scandal.

Sir Ed himself has apologised for failing to see through the Post Office’s “lies” but complained that he, like other ministers, was deceived “on an industrial scale”.

With his eyes set firmly on restoring the Lib Dems as a serious political force at Westminster, he will be hoping such controversies do not dent his chances.

Links

Kingston Council – Councillors and committees (archived)

Lib Dems – About Ed Davey (archived)

Getty Images – Liberal Democrats Announce New Party Leader (archived)

Lib Dems – The Post Office Horizon Scandal (archived)

X – Ed’s story (archived post and video)

Parliament UK – Mr Edward Davey (archived)

Lib Dems – Edward Davey MP (archived)

Amazon.co.uk – The Orange Book (archived)

Health Bill — New Clause 5 — Smoke-free premises: exemptions (archived)

They Work for You – Gambling Bill — 2nd reading (archived)

Lib Dems – Ed Davey (archived)

Parliament UK – 26 Feb 2008 : Column 922 (archived)

They Work for You – Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (archived)

Parliament UK – Ed Davey (archived)

The New Statesman – Greg Barker: Tories must not “dance off to the right” (archived)

House of Commons Library – General Election 2015 (archived)

The London Gazette – 30 December 2015 (archived)

Parliament UK – Election for the constituency of Kingston and Surbiton on 8 June 2017 (archived)

Liberal Democrat Voice – Ed Davey MP writes….My family, my party (archived)

Lib Dems – 2019 Election Review (archived)

Wigan, Leigh and Makerfield Liberal Democrats – Ed Davey elected Lib Dem Leader (archived)

Parliament UK – By-elections since the 2019 General Election (archived)

Post on Facebook (archived)

YouTube – Lee Anderson: Ed Davey should ‘clear off’ and resign | Post Office Scandal (archived)

YouTube – “The Post Office was lying on an industrial scale to me and other ministers”: Ed Davey (archived)

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