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Lib Dems Hope Ed Davey's "Fun" Campaign Antics Will Attract Voters To Their Policies

Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey falls into the water while paddleboarding on Lake Windermere (Alamy)

4 min read

Liberal Democrats hope pushing leader Ed Davey into the campaign limelight, including by performing comical stunts, will arouse the interest of voters who are otherwise apathetic about Westminster politics.

Davey has emerged as one of the most talked-about features of the campaign since Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the 4 July general election nearly a fortnight ago.

The former Cabinet minister has been pictured falling off a paddle board into Lake Windermere and hurtling down a water slide as part of his bid to increase the number of Liberal Democrat seats in the House of Commons. On Tuesday, he was pictured removing blocks from a big, blue Jenga tower — the bricks representing Tory-held constituencies.

While tongue-in-cheek, it is a deliberate effort, according to party figures, to inject some excitement into the six-week general election campaign by showing Davey "having fun along the way". The hope is that the stunts, while intended to be fun, are also drawing attention to the party's wider policy platform — particularly among voters who have so far shown little interest in the election and politics more generally.

Party sources believe this approach will get Westminster and the public talking about the party’s plans more than if policies had been promised in set-piece speeches or other more traditional campaigning moments. 

Last week, for example, Davey was pictured on a waterslide in Somerset as he talked about the party’s plans to improve metal health treatment provision for children.

The housing charity, Shelter, later used an image from the event in a social media post about the Lib Dems’ pledge for a national target of building 150,000 social homes per year by the end of the next Parliament. 

The strategy is not entirely focussed on stunts, though.

In the last 24 hours, Davey has received praise from across the political spectrum for a sit-down interview with ITV  in which he spoke movingly about juggling his job as a senior politician and caring for his disabled son.

An election campaign is generally viewed as a race to be the next Prime Minister. Opinion polls suggest Labour’s Keir Starmer is very likely to enter Downing Street next month, with the Tories trailing by large, double-digit margins. Numerous polls published on Monday crystallised the size of the mountain facing Sunak's beleaguered Tories in trying to avoid defeat on 4 July.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are averaging around 10 per cent in the polls. The party hopes to more than double the 15 House of Common seats it held before the election was called, largely by targetting Conservative-controlled seats in the south of England. They are targeting so-called 'blue wall' areas such as Wimbledon in South London, Cheltenham and Winchester. 

According to a YouGov MRP poll released on Monday, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt could be among the high-profile Tory candidates set to lose to Davey’s party in his new seat of Godalming and Ash in Surrey. 

While Davey's approach to the opening weeks of the campaign has been received positively, it was not long ago that the Lib Dem leader's position came under significant pressure.

At the beginning of the year, there were calls for Davey to resign following revelations about his time as minister responsible for postal affairs during the Post Office Horizon scandal. 

At the time, Liberal Democrats were hopeful that the scandal would not do too much damage to their electoral prospects in the long run, but polling from Opinium for The Observer suggested Davey’s personal ratings did take a hit.

In February, he apologised for not “see[ing] through the Post Office’s lies” and “taking “five months to meet Alan Bates, the man who has done so much to uncover it”. 

“The Horizon Post Office scandal is the greatest miscarriage of justice of our time, and I am deeply sorry for the families who have had their lives ruined by it,” he wrote. 

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