Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Ed Davey Lib Dem MP


SOPHY RIDGE: Reading the papers this morning you would be forgiven for thinking there was only one leadership contest in town but the race to replace Vince Cable as leader of the Liberal Democrats is also well and truly on and if the polls are anything to go by, this is the party we should be all paying more attention to. We’ll be speaking to both of the contenders – Ed Davey and Jo Swinson – on the programme but let’s start with our first guest here, Ed Davey who joins us now, thank you very much for being with us today.

ED DAVEY: Good morning.

SR: I just want to start with a story that is on the front pages of nearly all the newspapers this morning, this row between Boris Johnson and his partner. Does it matter or is this something that’s private?

ED DAVEY: It’s another example of Boris’s character coming into question, he has form let’s face it. Whilst this particular issue is a matter for the police, if you add it to the other things he’s done he’s a serial offender. The things he says that are racist, that are homophobic, Islamophobic …

SR: You could question whether the comments he has made are any of those things.

ED DAVEY: Our country is divided, we need politicians to choose their words carefully and the next Prime Minister has to try to heal the country. Boris divides people, he divides with these sorts of comments and his behaviour, I don't think he’s fit to be our Prime Minister.

SR: I think it’s worth pointing out that the police have said that there were no offences confirmed or apparent to the officers when they went round, is it something that we should just draw a line under now or is there more that you think we have a right to know?

ED DAVEY: Without going into details of this particular incident, the fact is there is a recording that people have heard and by itself, if it was just in isolation, perhaps we’d forget it but if you add it to all the other behaviours that Boris Johnson has done – remember, he was sacked as a journalist because he lied, he was sacked by a former leader of the Conservative party because he lied, he lies on an industrial scale and if you add that deception to the way he behaves and the things he’s said I do not think he is fit to be Prime Minister of our great country.

SR: Well we’ll be putting some of that to Boris Johnson supporter, Rishi Sunak, later in the programme. We know that some Conservative MPs are concerned about the idea of leaving without a deal in October, something that Boris Johnson has said that he would be prepared to do. Do you think that Conservatives might end up joining the Liberal Democrats if that happens?

ED DAVEY: Well in the local elections where Liberal Democrats did so well and in the European elections where we beat both the Conservatives and the Labour party in a UK wide poll for the first time in a hundred years, we saw lifelong Conservatives and lifelong Labour joining the Liberal Democrats in backing those. In parliament we have already had Chuka Umunna who came via the Change UK to us, we’re seeing Conservative MPs and Labour MPs extremely worried about their extreme leaders, their positions on Brexit and the way that British politics is going …

SR: So are you talking to Conservative MPs?

ED DAVEY: Of course we do, in the tea rooms and the corridors, you know how it works in Westminster and I’ve never seen Tory MPs, particularly from the Remain side, the pro-European and the liberal side of the Conservative party, so worried and I want to make it clear that under me the Liberal Democrats would be a political home for pro-European liberal Conservatives, pro-European social democratic Labour people, we can be the political home that then comes through the middle. Whilst both the other parties are so spit and divided and going to the extremes, I think our country is crying out for a sensible pro-European liberal force that can bring the country together and bring those people so we can win and under my leadership I would want to win the next election.

SR: So are you talking to Sarah Woollaston, Heidi Allen for example, do you think they may join Chuka Umunna and join the Lib Dems?

ED DAVEY: It would be inappropriate for me to go into private conversations, you know that Sophy …

SR: I can ask!

ED DAVEY: You can ask, of course you can but listen, I’m determined that we attract support from all sides. If they share our views, if they share Liberal Democrat values – and I believe many Conservative MPs and Labour MPs do, certainly many Tory and Labour voters share the Liberal Democrat values – then I think we can be a force in British politics our country is desperate for.

SR: So let’s have a look at something Chuka Umunna said in 2017, I just wonder if he does share the Liberal Democrat values because this is something he said back in 2017. He said, about the coalition, “What the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have done to our public services since 2010 and the cuts to support on those on low income, the disabled and others in need are unforgiveable.”

ED DAVEY: Well I’ve talked to him about that already, very, very courteously. He acknowledges that what we did do is take millions of low paid people out of tax, what we did do is introduce something called Pupil Premium for our most disadvantaged children, what we did do through Norman Lamb’s work on mental health reach out to people who’d been forgotten in the past. What we did do is nearly quadrupled the …

SR: Okay, you don’t have to reel off everything.

ED DAVEY: Well the Liberal Democrats achieved a lot in coalition, that is often forgotten and I’m really proud and we stopped the Conservatives cutting much more deeply. George Osborne wanted to really hit the poor and we said no, we tried to deal with the financial mess that we inherited and actually, if you look at Alistair Darling’s …

SR: A lot of your members who are the people who you are going to need to vote for you think that actually you did go too far and that is something you should try and forget.

ED DAVEY: Well I think we should abolish austerity now. I think the Tory’s in 2015 carried on austerity far too far, we’ve seen school cuts since 2015 which you didn’t see in the coalition, we’ve seen police cuts since 2015 which we didn’t see in the coalition. I want to build an economic policy that will green our economy because I think we should take the climate emergency far more seriously than this government’s doing but also invest in those public services which the country is crying out for.

SR: Okay, you were speaking earlier in the interview about how you think the Lib Dems should be a home for people who share your values so why is it that you are not prepared to do alliances with other remain supporting parties?

ED DAVEY: Well I am. First of all in Parliament I’ve been …

SR: In elections.

ED DAVEY: Well I’ll come to that but in Parliament we can stop Brexit before an election and I’ve talked about a government of national unity. Jo hasn’t, I’ve been the one leading on the idea of bringing Remain forces in parliament to a government that …

SR: But with the Lancashire by-election coming up, are you prepared to do deals with other parties?

ED DAVEY: Well Jo and I are at one on this, we need to make sure that our wonderful candidate Jane Dodds can win that by-election when it’s called because Liberal Democrats are clearly the challengers to the Conservatives there but let me be clear about elections because you asked me on that point. I said that we need to make sure that we can bring Remain forces together and one of the ways I’ve seen it in the past was through tactical voting. In 1997 and 2001 I won my seat and got a big majority thanks to Labour voters lending me their vote, in other seats Liberal Democrats lent the Labour party their votes to beat a very extreme right wing Conservative government. I can see the same thing, Remain parties co-operating to make sure the best placed Remain candidate wins. That’s actually a practical way forward of bringing Remain parties together.

SR: Now the Liberal Democrats never had a leader who isn’t white and who isn’t male, is that …?

ED DAVEY: Well I think the Liberal Democrats as a parliamentary party needs to be less white and less male …

SR: How about leadership?

ED DAVEY: I’ll come to that. I supported the all-women shortlist to make sure we had far more female MPs and I want to see a lot more …

SR: But we’re talking about leadership here.

ED DAVEY: But my point is this, if we have a lot more female Liberal Democrat MPs, one day the leader will be a woman but in any particular run race …

SR: Not necessarily, it hasn’t worked for Labour has it? It’s not necessarily true.

ED DAVEY: Well I think it will be true for the Liberal Democrats but in this race the members, when I have been going round the country, hustings after hustings, they want to select the best person for the job, on their merits, on their vision, on what they want to do for our party and for our country and …

SR: So you don’t think it matters?

ED DAVEY: Well not in any particular race. Of course, more broadly, it’s vital we have greater diversity and equality. For example, when I was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change I worked with Conservatives to help create something called Powerful Women, to get more women into the energy sector. I’ve been a real champion of diversity in my own constituency. In Kingston, in my area, Kingston council has more women Liberal Democrat councillors than men, we have eight BAME councillors. That’s not happened by chance, that’s happened because I’ve shown leadership, because I fundamentally believe in diversity and equality.

SR: And then just finally, I just wanted to ask a bit about your own personal back story. When I was doing research for the interview I was quite struck by it and I know our viewers might not know a lot about you. So your father died, didn’t he, when you were quite young and then your mother became ill, what was your childhood like?

ED DAVEY: Well first of all it was happy in the sense that I was in a loving family and I think that’s the message I hope I have learned from, that if you have a loving family that’s close you can survive tragedy and we did have tragedy. My mother was widowed aged 36 with three boys under ten, I was the youngest aged four. Then when I was twelve my mother became terminally ill and I was a young carer for her for three years and that was pretty difficult and it shaped my life. I think it’s made me more determined, I think it’s also made me more responsive to people who are vulnerable and I value caring. I have to care for my son now with my wife because he is severely disabled and so I have done a lot of caring in my life. It makes you appreciate the NHS, it makes you appreciate those people who dare caring responsibilities and in terms of my leadership, I think it gives me some grit and it also means that yes, I want to stop Brexit and deal with the divisions that Brexit has caused, I want to tackle the climate emergency, I want to fix our political system but I want us to be a caring party and I want us to be a compassionate Liberal Democrat government.

SR: Okay, Ed Davey, thank you very much for coming on the show today.