6 Jun 2024

Leader Interview – Sir Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats | Election 2024

The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, has been praised for opening up about caring for his severely disabled son. A campaign video shows emotional scenes with his teenage son John, as well as his childhood memories of caring for his terminally ill mother. It’s had millions of views on social media.

As part of our series of election interviews with the party leaders, Krishnan Guru-Murthy has been talking to Sir Ed about the election campaign so far and his party’s manifesto plans.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Ed Davey, in the first couple of weeks of this campaign, you’ve been making people laugh with your stunts. You’ve been making people cry with your very personal videos. Is this about changing what people think about you, or is it about changing politics, or a bit of both?

Sir Ed Davey: Actually, it’s about getting over some serious messages, and I think as long as you take the voters’ concerns and issues really seriously, you don’t have to take yourself too seriously. And by having a bit of fun and sometimes poking a bit of fun at yourself, you hopefully engage people.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But normally a politician might feature a member of the public to talk about social care or personal care. You’ve talked about your family. That’s different.

Sir Ed Davey: I guess it is. I mean, my life experience, our life experience, with our son is about caring for loved ones, and I felt that we actually have responsibility, and if we can talk about it, we can champion what actually millions of families go through.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Do you feel that you’ve been misunderstood as a politician? You’ve been seen as just another politician, whereas there’s a different person?

Sir Ed Davey: No, don’t get me wrong, this is not about me, it really isn’t about me. I’ve been very fortunate, right? I’ve had a loving family. Even when I lost my parents, I had brothers who were supportive. I have wonderful grandparents. When I talk to my constituents all around the country, I meet families who are caring for loved ones who’ve got no money, who are really struggling, and where there isn’t quite as much love sometimes. Often there is, but sometimes there isn’t. And when I reflect on, it’s challenging being a carer, I can tell you that for sure, but you can get brilliant relationships.

And I had a wonderful relationship with my mum, with my nana again, and then with my son. And so, I also want to show that being a carer can be a positive thing too. And I want to make the point that if we get this right, we can have a massive impact on the health service and on our economy. There’s a real win for everybody.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But what I mean is, it’s showing a compassionate side of you which politicians normally struggle to show. And we’ve gone through a very difficult period in this country over quite a long time. Now, for a lot of people who want to change at this election, they regard this as 14 years of Conservative government that they want rid of. But you were part of that, for five of them, in the coalition. So I wonder whether now you actually have some regrets about what you helped push through in those early years, in terms of austerity and hardship.

Sir Ed Davey: If you look at what I’ve done throughout my political career, before, during and after that time, I’ve always fought the Conservatives. [

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But is there anything about austerity that you regret?

Sir Ed Davey: What’s really evident is that as soon as we left office and the Tories were by themselves, they really slashed welfare spending, they really hit the poorest, and I am proud that we stopped them. And at the same time, this is really important, we made real progress on things like mental health support, on carers’ support.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But you regret things like the bedroom tax.

 Sir Ed Davey: Listen, I’m really pleased with what we achieved.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: I know, you keep telling me that, but I’m asking you about regrets, you’re saying you regret nothing.

 Sir Ed Davey: The point is, and this is why I want you to listen to this point, is if we hadn’t been there, they’d have done far worse for our country.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: The choice facing that government, when public finances were a mess, was, what do you cut, what do you tax? And you had to decide on a ratio, sort of 80% cuts, 20% tax. As we go into the next government, you might be faced with a similar choice because you might hold an important part of power in this next parliament. Do you think that is broadly the right ratio of tax cuts to spending cuts? Would you do the same thing?

 Sir Ed Davey: We’re publishing our manifesto very soon. It will be a lot more for people like you to look at and to question me about. But let’s give you a specific example. I mentioned earlier that we talked about our policies for children and young people with mental health problems. We costed it, I think about £640 million a year, it’s a big investment. And we said we would fund that by taking the digital services tax, which is a tax paid by the social media giants, the likes of Amazon and Google, and we would treble that.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: It’s not honest, is it, to say that the only people who will pay tax are the bad people, the super rich, the tech giants? The truth is that everyone is going to face more tax in the next government, isn’t it?

 Sir Ed Davey: The truth is, everyone’s been paying a lot of tax, you’re absolutely right.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: Taxes have been going up and they will keep going up.

 Sir Ed Davey: The Conservatives have got plans…

Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But will you be honest about that and say to people, it’s not just the tech giants and it’s not just the super rich, it’s everyone?

 Sir Ed Davey: Let me just take you through it, really happy to do this. The Conservatives have hiked personal taxation to levels I never thought we’d see in this country, and they’ve got plans to hike tax through the next parliament. Now it’s going to be very difficult to roll some of those tax rises back very quickly. When we publish our manifesto, we will make it very clear that when resources allow, we do want the income tax allowance to go up by more than inflation, we do want that.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But in the meantime it’s going up, isn’t it.

 Sir Ed Davey: Yeah, because that’s the Conservative plan, you’re absolutely right. And so what we’re saying is, to be really clear on this, is we don’t think personal tax can go up any more. The vast majority of people are paying so much under the Conservatives. So we have identified not just the social media giants, the oil and gas companies, the big banks. These are sectors, they’ve been making huge amounts of money, and if you want a fairer society, a fair deal for people, we can’t ask them for money in a cost of living crisis. It’s quite right to ask these large companies to pay a bit more.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: One way the Liberal Democrats were ahead of the game in a way, on a revenue raiser, was legalising cannabis. if you legalised it, you could tax it, you could raise billions. Are you going to suggest that? Half the developed world is doing that. [00:06:00][15.4]

 Sir Ed Davey: When we publish our manifesto, you will see more of the detail, but I can give you this insight. There’s no doubt that what’s happening in our country is that young people and communities are being ruined by drug traffickers. And we have to find a way to make sure that the drugs that are doing the most harm and the people pushing that get locked away, and we take them off our streets and we protect our young people. And one of the ways of doing that is looking at successful drug policies elsewhere, where you decriminalise those parts of drugs that really are not harmful, and go really hard on the criminals who are really damaging people’s lives.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: We’ll look forward to the manifesto, I’ll take that as a hint. Let’s talk about foreign policy briefly. Most Liberal Democrats want to rejoin the European Union. Why have you dropped that as a policy?

 Sir Ed Davey: Again, I’ll give you a little preview to the manifesto. We’re going to be really clear that in the long term Britain needs to be back at the heart of the EU.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: In the single market?

 Sir Ed Davey: But what we’re saying is the relationship with our European friends and partners has been broken by the Conservatives. The trust that there used to be, that’s been soured and poisoned, and that needs to be rebuilt. And the truth is, you can’t wave a magic wand and go back to what it used to be straight overnight. It will take a long time to rebuild that trust. And I’m really proud that it’s been the Liberal Democrats who set out detailed policies for rebuilding that trust and that relationship. And we do hope that in due course we could get back into the single market, it’s quite a big thing, but that’s not on the table now.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: It’s perfectly possible you could be important in the next parliament and that Labour might need you. So what are your red lines if you were to do a deal with Labour?

 Sir Ed Davey: If the leader of the Liberal Democrats worries about after the election, they don’t focus on the election campaign itself.

 Krishnan Guru-Murthy: But you know people got really annoyed last time over tuition fees. So isn’t there something to be clear with people about this is what I will and won’t drop?

 Sir Ed Davey: Let me be really clear where I think I can be unequivocal about the future, and that is, I will never, ever put the Conservatives in. I fought the Conservatives all my life, I fought them in government, I think they are an awful government. They’re out of ideas, out of excuses, out of time, should be out of office, I couldn’t be clearer about that. Beyond that, I am going to focus on my task, and I think the more Liberal Democrat MPs get elected in this election, the better the next parliament will be.