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Mon, 15 July 2024

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Lib Dems Hope Ed Davey's Role In Post Office Scandal Won't Cost Them Votes

Ed Davey campaigning in Guildford last week (Alamy)

4 min read

Liberal Democrats remain hopeful that Conservative attacks on leader Ed Davey about his role in the Horizon Post Office scandal won't do too much damage to their electoral prospects, and believe such criticisms from Tories in swing seats could be attempts to fight off Liberal Democrat opposition.

Davey has come under scrutiny over his role in the scandal, given his position as postal affairs minister between 2010 and 2012, a fact his detractors have been all too keen to highlight. According to the Sunday Times, in spring 2010, Davey told Alan Bates, the former sub-postmaster and Horizon victim who led the campaign for justice, that a meeting between the two would not serve “any useful purpose”. Later that autumn, after further correspondence, a meeting went ahead. Davey has now faced calls to resign as party leader, or to hand back his knighthood over the affair.

Deputy Conservative party chairman Lee Anderson used a Prime Minister’s Question on Wednesday to tell the Lib Dem leader to “clear his desk, clear his diary, and clear off”. 

While Lib Dem figures feel the attacks on Davey, who claims he was lied to by the Post Office over the issue, are not justified, there is a frustration among some that the party was not better prepared for the inevitable backlash, and they have been left feeling caught out by the issue. 

“There is a growing feeling in the party that the Conservatives are attacking Ed because they see this as being electorally helpful to them – CCHQ [Conservative Campaign Headquarters] know that Liberal Democrats are a big threat to them in some of their former heartlands," a Liberal Democrat source told PoliticsHome.

“The Conservative Party is not above politicising the most profound miscarriage of justice of our age for their political gain.”

Lib Dem campaigners argue that voters place more blame with the Post Office than they do with political figures, and told PoliticsHome they have encountered very few instances of people bringing up Davey’s involvement on the doorstep since the airing of the ITV drama that sent the issue to the top of the political agenda. 

In an interview with The Guardian this week, Davey said that government was “just told so many lies” by the Post Office. 

“We were reassured time and again that the Horizon system was working. We were told there weren’t that many postmasters affected,” he told the paper. 

Labour leader Keir Starmer has also come under scrutiny, given his former position as director of public prosecutions at the time of some of the convictions. 

The CPS said on Wednesday that it prosecuted 11 cases that involved Horizon evidence, three which resulted in convictions, while Starmer was in charge. 

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage posted on social media and said that it is "time for some answers" from the Labour leader and that "he did nothing" as people were convicted. 

A spokesperson for Starmer told reporters: "The scandal that's emerged is one of the worst miscarriages of justice in British history and Labour has been calling for swift exoneration and compensation for the victims.

“It's vital that all action is taken to right these wrongs. Labour's focus is on playing our part in making sure this injustice is never repeated.”

On Wednesday Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that ministers would bring forward legislation that will exonerate and compensate victims of the scandal he had labelled “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”. 

“We will make sure that the truth comes to light, we right the wrongs of the past, and the victims get the justice they deserve,” he told MPs.

On Thursday morning, the Liberal Democrats wrote to Ofcom to ask for an investigation into GB News over their coverage of the scandal and criticism of Davey. 

Deputy leader Daisy Cooper wrote to the head of the regulator Melanie Dawes to ask for them to look into whether the challenge had broken rules on impartiality and inaccuracy by not mentioning Conservative figures’ roles in the scandal. 

She said: "This is a general election year. British democracy deserves better than partisan, misleading, and at times frankly absurd reporting of vital political issues." 

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