U.K. Liberal Democrats Name Ed Davey Leader to Rebuild Party

The U.K.’s Liberal Democrats named Ed Davey as their fourth leader in five years, as the party tries to rebuild in a political arena dominated by the 78-seat parliamentary majority held by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and the resurgence of the main opposition Labour Party.

“We need to wake up and smell the coffee,” Davey, who beat Layla Moran in the leadership contest, said in a speech broadcast online. “My job today is to rebuild the Liberal Democrats to national relevance.”

U.K. Liberal Democrats Name Ed Davey Leader to Rebuild Party

With only 11 members of Parliament, the Liberal Democrats are far removed from the height of their recent political power, when the 57 seats they secured in the 2010 general election propelled the party into a coalition with the Conservatives. But that alliance backfired when it was forced into a U-turn on key party policies including on university tuition fees and austerity.

The party also campaigned to remain in the European Union and lost support in December’s general election by pledging to reverse the U.K.’s decision to leave the bloc without a further public vote.

According to research by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, the party’s failure to project a clear domestic agenda that drove its latest slump in the polls. The new leader must “throw off the coalition” and form a clearer position on tax and spending to stand out from the party’s larger rivals, he said before the announcement.

‘Start Listening’

Davey, 54, served as energy secretary in then Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government. He said Thursday’s it’s time for the party to “start listening” after “three disappointing election results.” He pledged to build a “greener, fairer, more caring country” if the party wins power. He has previously said his priority is the economy, and has often referenced his career as a market analyst before entering Parliament in 1997.

Asked during the campaign how he would ease unemployment after the pandemic, Davey said he would promote green jobs and introduce a universal basic income.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the candidates to conduct the campaign almost entirely online.

Positive Signs

There are some reasons for Davey to feel optimistic. According to data published in July by research institute, U.K. in a Changing Europe, the party finished second in 91 parliamentary seats last year --- more than twice as many as in 2017.

And while the Liberal Democrats are nowhere near their 2010 support level when the party won more than 30% of the vote in 140 seats, they are within “reasonable touching distance” of winning many more seats next time, according to the research.

Moran, 37, lost despite being untainted by the party’s coalition era, having been elected to Parliament in 2017. Half-Palestinian, she has received support from gay and trans-rights activists after announcing she is pansexual. A former math and physics teacher, she backs lowering the voting age to 16, once arguing that children should be allowed to vote when they feel ready.

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