Sir Ed Davey promises ‘very practical’ leadership by Lib Dems

Liberal Democrat leadership in Westminster would be “very practical”, Sir Ed Davey has said.

“I’ve been determined in my leadership that we didn’t mislead people about what is possible,” the Lib Dem leader told the PA news agency, taking questions about his party’s long-term ambitions.

In an ITV Tonight programme interview this week, Sir Ed dodged questions about whether he would want to rejoin the European Union and said: “What I’m focusing on is what can be done in the next parliament.”

During Friday’s seven-way General Election debate on BBC One, his deputy Daisy Cooper took a question about the party’s pledge not to raise tuition fees in the coalition years.

Ms Cooper described the broken promise as a “sore subject” and “a very difficult decision”.

After a round of adventure golf on a dinosaur-themed course in Berkshire on Saturday, Sir Ed said: “If the Conservatives stay in government, that’s a bad result for the country.

“I said when I became leader of the Liberal Democrats, my top priority was defeating as many Conservative MPs as we possibly can (and) some SNP MPs in Scotland, because the Conservatives have got to get out of government and the SNP don’t deserve any representation in Westminster – they’ve governed in Scotland so badly, so that’s the top priority.

“Increasingly, people are seeing that in many parts of the country – here in Berkshire, but the Home Counties whether it’s Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, so many parts of traditional Tory heartlands – that it’s the Liberal Democrats who people should vote for if they want to get rid of this Conservative government.”

The party leader said there are “many reasons why” he would not put a figure on the number of seats he would consider a “bad result”.

Sir Ed Davey swings his golf club and hits a ball in front of a large dinosaur figure
Sir Ed Davey spent part of Saturday at an adventure golf course in Wokingham, Berkshire (Will Durrant/PA)

He said: “I don’t like putting a ceiling on our ambitions, to be honest.

“The way things are going, we’re finding more and more lifelong Conservatives switching to us. It’s been quite exciting for us, if I’m honest with you.

“Rishi Sunak – his track record and the Conservatives’ track record is really poor. Their campaign has been shocking and frankly their betrayal of veterans by Rishi Sunak leaving the D-Day commemorations early has really, really cut through.

“The veterans and their families are very upset and I think people who traditionally have thought the Conservatives are the party of patriotism no longer think that.”

The Liberal Democrat leader earlier said voters are “just flabbergasted by what the Prime Minister did” – travelling back to the UK from Normandy before D-Day commemorations had ended for a TV interview.

Mr Sunak has already apologised for his decision and wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The 80th anniversary of D-Day has been a profound moment to honour the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to protect our values, our freedom and our democracy.

Sir Ed Davey and Lee Dillon show off their racquet skills, bouncing balls in Newbury
Sir Ed Davey and Lee Dillon show off their racquet skills in Newbury (Will Durrant/PA)

“This anniversary should be about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The last thing I want is for the commemorations to be overshadowed by politics.”

Addressing Europe, Sir Ed said: “I’m very practical.

“At the moment, the relationship between our country and our European friends and neighbours has been so damaged by the Conservatives, so poisoned by the Conservatives and people like Mr (Nigel) Farage, the chances of us having a quick rapprochement and improving the relationship is unfortunately not going to be likely.”

He added a stronger relationship with EU neighbours could help to tackle crime and human trafficking, and cutting prices through trade deals.

Sir Ed visited two Conservative seats.

In Wokingham, where the Liberal Democrat leader scored two over par on his first go at adventure golf, flanked by a triceratops and a Tyrannosaurus rex, Sir John Redwood has been the MP since 1987.

Sir Ed Davey sits in an oversized deckchair at Wokingham Family Golf in Berkshire
Sir Ed Davey at Wokingham Family Golf in Berkshire (Will Durrant/PA)

The leader also visited Newbury, where Laura Farris enjoyed a majority of more than 16,000 in 2019.

He played tennis with local candidate Lee Dillon in a bid to highlight the importance of outdoor activities.

The party is trailing its pledge to create three new national parks, backed up by an extra £50 million for these protected landscapes – which currently include the Brecon Beacons in Wales, the South Downs and the Lake District.

Sir Ed Davey denied the Liberal Democrats are “nimbys” for focusing on national parks amid a housing crisis and low economic growth.

“You’ll see when we publish our manifesto we’ve got ambitious plans on housing as well, but the right houses in the right places,” he said.

“But people don’t just want houses, they want to know that there’s the environment there to enjoy. And investing in the environment is right to deal with the nature crisis.”

The Lib Dem manifesto will also include a policy to make ministers conducting “government by WhatsApp” illegal, the i paper reported.

MPs would have to log all instant messages and texts that relate to Government business in the official record under the proposal.

The issue of politicians failing to keep important messages was highlighted during the Covid-19 inquiry, with Boris Johnson and Mr Sunak both saying they lost access to some WhatsApp exchanges.