Who is Ed Davey? Lib Dem leader attracts attention with election stunts

Everything you need to know about the former minister who has pledged to fight for the NHS.

Britain's Liberal Democrat party Leader Ed Davey falls from a paddle board, during a Liberal Democrat general election campaign, at Lake Windermere, in north west England, on May 28, 2024.
Ed Davey has been involved in a number of comedy stunts since the election was called. (Alamy)

With the spotlight on prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer as they prepare to slug it out in a general election campaign, the focus had started slipping from Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey until a series of stunts put him back in the spotlight.

The former coalition government cabinet minister - who lost his seat, punished by voters for getting into bed with the Tories, but then won it back again - is sending a clear message that he should not be overlooked.

He’s had a long political career and the climax may still be ahead: if polls continue to shift away from the Conservatives at the current trajectory, there’s a slim possibility that, if the election is held in October, he could end up as Leader of the Opposition.

So what do we know about the man behind the third party in British politics? Hannah Fearn finds out.

His early life

Ed Davey was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, on Christmas Day in 1965. He was the youngest of three boys, but lost his father at just four years old, and his mother followed over a decade later when he was in his mid-teens. She spent three years battling cancer, during which time he nursed his mother together with his grandmother and brother Henry.

Once a keen Scout and Air Scout, he later remembers feeling “isolated” at school because of his caring responsibilities, which meant he couldn’t take part in after-school activities or sports. “The last 18 months she was bedridden and in a lot of pain. I’d spend hours on the bed, talking to her,” he said. Davey was with his mother when she died at Nottingham General Hospital, after being placed on an unsuited dementia ward.

After both his parents had died, Davey was brought up by his maternal grandparents in the village of Eakring, though his grandfather died soon after. He spent much of his childhood and young adulthood close to his grandmother. “First of all, she was looking after me. Then we were looking after each other,” he said.

His family

Davey married Emily Gasson, a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, in 2005. Gasson stood in four elections but failed to win a seat and is now a councillor. The pair have two children, a son and daughter.

Their son, born in 2007 and now a teenager, is disabled with a neurological condition. He attended special schools but is now educated at home with a tutor - a change that Davey said led to him becoming verbal for the first time. He has spoken about his anxiety about who will care for his son when he and his wife are no longer around. “It’s the thing that worries me more than anything else in my life,” he said.

Gasson was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 2012. She was well for many years following her diagnosis, but declined during lockdown and is working on recovering her physical strength.

Liberal Democrats election broadcast shows Ed Davey with disabled son
Liberal Democrats election broadcast shows Ed Davey with his son. (Liberal Democrats)

His parents

His father, John, was a solicitor and his mother, Nina, a teacher. Davey has described how he was inspired to study by his mother, who always wanted him to try hard academically and who he wanted to impress.

His education

Davey attended the private Nottingham High School, the alma mater of former chancellor Kenneth Clarke. He became head boy, with Labour MP Ed Balls - who was studying in the year below - watching on. After school, he achieved a first class degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Jesus College, Oxford where he was junior common room president. After becoming an economics research for the Liberal Democrats he returned to study, reading for a master’s degree in economics at Birkbeck College, London.

Ed Davey, pictured with his family. (Liberal Democrats)
Ed Davey, pictured with his family. (Liberal Democrats)

Why is he a sir?

For three years, the Lib Dem leader was a member of the cabinet during the period of Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, holding the post of secretary of state for energy and climate change from 2012 to 2015. He was knighted in the 2016 New Year’s Honours for “political and public services”.

Davey on... the cost of living crisis

Davey has repeatedly attacked the government for failing to curb rapid inflation and the devastating effect it is having on household budgets. He called the Conservative Party “so out of touch they might as well be living on another planet”, and said he warned Jeremy Hunt “people are desperate for real help… but all the chancellor could offer is empty words and unfair tax hikes”. In particular, he has urged more action on food price inflation, which analysis from his own party found had risen 37 per cent in one year for the average weekly supermarket trip. He has promised to end energy hikes and abandoned his plan to add 1p to income tax to save the NHS because ordinary voters can no longer afford it.

Davey on... the NHS

The Liberal Democrats have made the NHS a cornerstone of their policy platform for the last five years. In Davey’s words: “Voting Conservative is bad for your health.” He promises to reverse cuts to GP numbers and guarantee a doctor’s appointment when you need one, improve access to NHS dentistry and save lives by tackling ambulance call out delays. Davey blames the care crisis for deepening the problems of the health service and says his party would spend £5bn a year on a “care package” to ensure patients are discharged from hospital more quickly, freeing up bed space. However, there is little detail on how this would be financed without raising taxes on the wealthiest - which Davey has promised not to do in his push to poach disillusioned Tory voters.

British Leader of the Liberal Democrats party Ed Davey arrives at the BBC Broadcasting House, for his appearance on 'Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg', in London, Britain, April 28, 2024. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska
British Leader of the Liberal Democrats party Ed Davey arrives at the BBC Broadcasting House, for his appearance on 'Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg', in London, Britain, April 28, 2024. REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

Davey on... immigration

The Lib Dem leader has been a long-standing advocate for refugee rights and critic of the government’s immigration policy. He has called for Conservative plans to deport failed asylum seekers to Rwanda a “cynical distraction” from the partygate crisis and the money would be better spent on measures to tackle the cost of living crisis. He added: “They’ve provided no evidence to suggest that this new policy will stop illegal smuggling, they’re not cracking down on the organised crime gangs, which is what you need to do.” He has called for a new right to work for refugees and asylum seekers, and major reform of the Home Office which he says is no longer up to the job. After the end of the coalition government, Davey has said his party “was wrong” to go along with the introduction of a minimum income standard for immigrants. He later described the policy as “nasty and unfair”.

Davey on... the Post Office scandal

Despite the Horizon scandal that led to the wrongful prosecution of more than 700 subpostmasters crossing the tenure of more than a dozen business secretaries, Ed Davey has recently taken the heat for failing to investigate the issue while he was in the job.

It has emerged that Davey initially rejected a request to meet justice campaigner Alan Bates, and later accepted it only on the advice that it would be good for his PR. He has recently apologised for not acting earlier, admitting that he is sorry that he “did not see through Post Office lies” about the fault in the Horizon programme.