By Ben Summer
Ed Davey was elected this week as Liberal Democrat leader, with his competitor Layla Moran left trailing by a 27% margin that was surprising for some, and evidence of the party’s settled identity to others. Many viewed Davey as a candidate who represented the party’s time in coalition and a desire to continue on its current path, but both candidates have publicly spoken in favour of material change to bolster the party’s electoral chances.
a trend has emerged in which Davey has been viewed as a safer choice, and Moran as the progressive candidate.
A recent YouGov poll shows the party only gaining 6% of the public’s support, and it could be said that the low turnout of 57.6% in the leadership election reflects that — in some senses — the candidates are divided by fairly little. Davey has noted that the party must “face up to uncomfortable truths,” while Moran has been quoted saying, “we need to demonstrate that we’ve learnt our lessons from the last decade.”
Despite the broadly similar rhetoric between the two, a trend has emerged in which Davey has been viewed as a safer choice, and Moran as the progressive candidate. The University of Strathclyde’s Professor Tanja Bueltmann has spoken of Davey as the “continuity guy,” who will ensure conversations around the Lib Dems “bring up every single past issue again and again and again.”
This is a familiar argument, referring to Davey’s reluctance to disown every party of his involvement in the 2010-2015 Coalition government, having pointed to his time as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Moran, first elected in 2017, was viewed by many as a fresher face and an opportunity to appeal to the public with a younger, female leader in comparison to the main parties’ older men in charge. However, the spectre of Moran’s domestic incident with her partner in 2013 may have been viewed as a barrier to her electability.
only time will tell whether Davey can win the support of a wider section of the public
A number of members of the party hierarchy have made the decision to leave following the election result. Theo Long, former President of the Warwick University Liberal Democrats, released a statement claiming, “I was a member of the party on the basis that we’d moved on [from the Coalition] — Ed’s huge victory shows this isn’t the case,” also noting that “Ed Davey’s continuing promotion of Tim Farron… compounded by his choice to use of images of himself at Pride only in leaflets for more ‘metropolitan’ areas” thus reflecting illiberal attitudes in the party structure.
Long is not the only person to have handed in his membership card, but only time will tell whether Davey can win the support of a wider section of the public — especially in a time when Labour is seeking to win back the centre ground, and many of the Government’s policies enjoy widespread popularity.
Image: Liberal Democrats via Flickr