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Sir Ed Davey breaks his silence over the Post Office scandal

Davey is desperately trying to fight off allegations of being “the invisible man”

Ed Davey arrives to speak to supporters on January 03. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

With an Ipsos Mori poll showing that support for the Lib Dems had slumped from 13% to just 7% after their leader Sir Ed Davey’s inaction in the Post Office scandal came to light, local associations demanded a coherent fightback plan from the party president, Mark Pack.

He assured them Davey was going to come out “with all guns blazing” in a round of television and radio interviews, culminating in an appearance on Laura Kuenssberg’s Sunday morning show.

Davey’s first appearance on James O’Brien’s LBC programme – coinciding with a piece Davey had written for the Guardian in which he finally said sorry for not helping the subpostmasters and mistresses – didn’t quite go according to plan. Davey couldn’t explain why he hadn’t apologised earlier, couldn’t name the specific Post Office officials he claimed had lied to him about the affair, and could only laugh nervously at O’Brien’s suggestion that he was fighting for his political life.

Bloodied over the encounter, Davey made it clear he was only willing to go on the Kuenssberg show on condition they agreed not to raise the Post Office scandal. The Kuenssberg team – preoccupied with their big interview with Brianna Ghey’s mother, Esther – told him that was unacceptable and, so far as they were concerned, the Lib Dem leader could enjoy a lie-in on Sunday morning.

With a sense of dread in the party about Davey’s forthcoming appearance at the public inquiry into the Post Office scandal, Pack’s “fightback” strategy has shifted to one of bringing back some of their old big guns.

I am told former leader Sir Nick Clegg and David Laws, the former chief secretary to the treasury, have been enlisted to attend a big gala event in Somerset in March that they hope will change the party’s fortunes. Davey – already facing allegations of being “the invisible man” – will not be attending.

As his spring budget approaches, Jeremy Hunt’s habit of dangling before his party’s hard right one particular cut of red meat – yes, it’s the old scrapping inheritance tax (IHT) story all over again – could yet leave the chancellor mortally wounded.

I am reliably informed that Liz Truss, the former prime minister, is scenting blood ahead of Hunt’s announcements on March 6.

“Ahead of his last budget, Jeremy more or less gave his word to a campaign group of 50 MPs within his party, in addition to hacks from the Telegraph and the Mail, who’ve also been pushing for IHT to be reviewed, that he intended to raise the threshold to £1m and then did nowt,” one well-informed Tory backbencher tells me. “It doesn’t matter if the economists are saying cutting IHT makes no sense, it’s the fact Jeremy’s gone around telling everyone he’s going to do it and then failing to deliver that’s left him dangerously exposed.”

He adds that Truss – accused of running a “party within a party” with her Popular Conservatism project – has been telling her allies she’s going to “demand” Hunt’s resignation as chancellor if he fails to rethink IHT in next month’s budget.

“She has long been seeking a cause that will appeal sufficiently to the party faithful – in addition to the Telegraph and the Mail – which could give her the traction she craves to take back No 10. Whether anyone will heed her demand I have no idea, but the fact is she loathes Jeremy, as she felt he showed her scant respect when she had to bring him in to replace Kwasi Kwarteng after his disastrous mini-budget.”

Straining to find a new line to plug their serialisation of Robert Hardman’s biography of King Charles, the Daily Mail alighted on a catchy quote supposedly made by the late Queen Elizabeth that ticked the additional box of being hostile to the paper’s current bêtes noires.

“I don’t own the palaces, I don’t own the paintings, the only thing I own is my name, and now they’ve taken that,” they quoted her as saying when she learned that Harry and Meghan had decided to name their daughter Lilibet after a childhood nickname that developed when the future monarch had not yet learned not say “Elizabeth”.

The quote went everywhere and was widely credited to Hardman. It certainly gave him something to talk about as he went on the round of TV and radio shows to plug his tome. There was, however, a fundamental problem with it, and one that is causing the Mail editor, Ted Verity, to tear his remaining hairs out as he deals with continuing diplomatic repercussions in his own newsroom.

The quote wasn’t actually in Hardman’s book and had been taken instead from an “exclusive” from royal reporter Rebecca English that had first appeared in the Mail on January 15.

“It’s all been bloody awkward and comes down to the fact we had to serialise Hardman’s book as he works for us, but it had no really strong news lines,” a Mail staffer tells me. “On Loose Women, Hardman looked embarrassed when they asked him about it and he tried to make the point the quote wasn’t actually his.”

She adds that Hardman was actually every bit as annoyed about the quote being attributed to him as English, as he felt it brought his book into disrepute.

“Robert knows very well that the late Queen wasn’t exactly famous for her catchy or emotional quotes and Rebecca’s original story had claimed the Queen had said it ‘to aides’, which, as everyone familiar with royal reporting knows, generally means it should be taken with a pinch of salt.”

Whether Hardman and English demand an apology in their own newspaper remains to be seen.

Given what they have done to the country, it should come as no great surprise that the business acumen of Brexit’s principal proponents is being found wanting.

First, I disclosed how spin doctor Dominic Cummings was making nowhere near the kind of money he made in Downing Street with his tech consultancy firm Siwah.

Now comes news that Lord Frost, architect of Britain’s dismal deal with the European Union, is some way off making his fortune with Allenton Geopolitics, the information services outfit he set up after he quit as minister for EU relations in December 2021.

Boris Johnson’s former European adviser reports in his company’s first set of accounts that it has made a relatively modest £80,476 since it began trading, with £117,960 in assets and £37,484 in bills.

The lifelong public sector employee – Frost was once fiercely pro-EU during his days as Europe director at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – is meanwhile no longer on the online roster of after-dinner speakers at Chartwell, and has also ceased to be an adviser to JCB and a senior fellow at Policy Exchange.

Happily, there is still taxpayers’ cash to keep him going; as a member of the Lords, he was able to avail himself of attendance fees between January 2022 and July 2023 of £41,796.

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