In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. In September, we spoke with Ed Davey, the new leader of ALDE member party the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom. The interview was conducted shortly after his election as party leader, during a challenging time for both the EU and the UK.
Ed Davey, you were recently elected to lead the Liberal Democrats in the UK. With a background in economics, what inspired you to enter into politics?
I first became interested in politics as a child, when my cousin Peter encouraged me to read ‘Seeing Green’ by Jonathan Porritt. I knew right away that book was going to change my life forever. It ignited in me a passion for saving our planet, and I knew that politics would be the best route for bringing about that change.
I joined the Liberal Democrats because I thought they were the strongest party in the UK on the environment. In 1989, I became the Economics Researcher for the party in Parliament, where I worked with MPs like Alan Beith and my political hero, Paddy Ashdown. Together, Paddy and I developed some of the policies I am most proud of, like our ‘penny on income tax’ for education policy.
We are living uncertain times across Europe and facing some never-before-seen difficulties. In your view, what are the main challenges the Liberal Democrats are currently facing?
After three disappointing results in general elections, it is time for our party to face up to the uncomfortable truths. We need to find a way to reconnect with voters and prove that the Liberal Democrats share their values and are on their side.
That is why I used my first speech as party leader to announce our National Listening Project. I have already begun travelling up and down the country, to meet with people from all walks of life and hear about the issues that matter most to them. From working a shift at a fish and chips restaurant in Stockport to helping out farmers in Wales, I am looking forward to taking this opportunity to listen.
As leader, I will rebuild the Liberal Democrats to national relevance so that we can deliver a new future for our country, based on fairness and opportunity for all.
What steps are the Liberal Democrats taking to achieve a fairer, greener and more caring society in the UK?
We are determined to bring our vision of a fairer, greener and more caring society to life. Our country is going through one of the most difficult periods for generations, and the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect us for decades to come. Now we have a real opportunity to deliver this new future, for the people who need it most.
But to do this, we need bold and radical change. That is why I have developed my Green Recovery Plan, which would help us invest in green jobs so that we can rebuild our economy and tackle climate change at the same time.
Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital role of carers in our society, and it has pushed millions of people to become unpaid carers for their family or friends. I am especially passionate about this because I have been a carer throughout my life — for my terminally-ill mum during my teens, then for my wonderful Nanna, and now for my disabled son.
We must finally agree on a long-term solution to ensure that disabled, elderly and vulnerable people get the care they need. And we must also do far more to recognise and support carers, with more financial support and greater legal protection. For example, I have recently tabled legislation that would require employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable their employees to balance work with caring responsibilities.
Speaking of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, what helped you to manage stress and stay healthy during this challenging time?
I am sure so many people would agree that — for all the stress and uncertainty of the last few months — one positive has been the chance to spend more time with our families. Going on walks and spending time outdoors with my wife and wonderful children, John and Ellie, has been a huge help for managing stress and staying healthy.
And we should not forget the climate crisis either: with the UK hosting COP26 next year, what are the Liberal Democrats doing to ensure the targets of the Paris Agreement are met?
The Liberal Democrats are committed to tackling the climate emergency, and with COP26 taking place in the UK next year, we have a real opportunity to hold the UK government to account for their poor record on addressing the climate crisis.
That is why I am urging the UK government to focus on green finance: we need new laws and regulations on financial markets and institutions, with the objective of switching huge amounts of investment from the dirty technologies of the past to the clean ones of the future.
The Liberal Democrats believe that the UK government should be doing much more to build a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are calling for investment in new green jobs and infrastructure, particularly by expanding home retrofitting to cut emissions and reduce fuel poverty and building more renewable power, aiming to reach a target of 80% of our electricity from renewables by 2030.
With uncertainty around the Brexit negotiations, how does the future relationship between the UK and the EU look like from your perspective, and how are the Liberal Democrats mitigating the impact of Brexit?
The Liberal Democrats are passionately pro-European — and always will be. We know that we are so much better off standing together than we could ever be alone, which is why the Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for the closest possible ties with our European friends.
The focus of our party now is to prevent a bad deal or a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year. At a time when the UK is already facing the biggest crisis in generations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to crash out of the EU on bad terms.
The Liberal Democrats will keep holding the UK government to account, to ensure the UK gets the best possible deal. This means maintaining food supplies and standards, protecting the NHS and championing human rights.
In this context, what does being a member of the wider liberal European family mean for you and the Liberal Democrats?
For us, it means belonging to a community that works together to promote our shared values. The Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on being an internationalist party — and working together is more important now than ever, in light of threats to our values like the rise of authoritarianism and Brexit.
Many of the issues currently facing our societies do not recognise national borders. To address collective challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, we will need to work together to find new solutions. Organisations like the ALDE Party provide the Liberal Democrats with a fantastic opportunity to come together with our sister parties, so that we can collaborate and share best practices.
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