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Sir Ed Davey rebrands to save his leadership

The party plan to appeal to the “yoof” vote by rebranding as the Dem Libs...

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey - Credit: PA

With 30 of the most senior figures in his party publishing an open letter last week calling on him to be bolder – especially on Brexit – the Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, promptly sacked one of its signatories, the former MEP Lady Sarah Ludford, as his European spokesperson.

“I personally don’t think I deserve to lose my spokesmanship over it,” the widely respected peer responded. “I recall the tolerance of Paddy Ashdown, when he was leader, but then maybe he led a happy party.”

Davey’s office was unrepentant about Ludford’s sacking, saying “it would be a comforting luxury to act as the most democratic think tank in British politics”. A number of party members have been in touch to say they felt her treatment had been “shameful”.

One senior figure in the party told me that the letter – signed, too, by the chiefs of staff of two of the three most recent party leaders, a former policy director and a former MP – was the result of “frustration” that had been building up for some time over Davey’s failure to listen to his membership.

“The party high command are obsessed with the ‘Blue Wall’ and are talking of how they are preparing for ‘Edmania’ at the next election, quite oblivious to the fact we are polling on 9%, no none knows what we stand for and I know of several donors who are starting to lose interest,” he grumbles. “This sort of hubris reminds me of Jo Swinson walking around at the last election telling anyone who’d listen she would be the next prime minister, but then we have the same people, in Mark Pack and Olly Grender, who advised her who are now advising him.”

The sense of disquiet about Davey’s style of leadership was expressed in The Liberator – an influential Lib Dem periodical – in a strongly worded editorial entitled “How Not to Do It”, which accused him of “blowing a gasket” over Ludford after the open letter was published in the Guardian, and said his response had scarcely amounted to “a sign of strength”.  

With the Lib Dems offering little alternative to Labour on Brexit, The Liberator has asked what positive reasons voters would have to choose them, and drew attention to the party’s ceasefire position on Gaza – which for an “internationalist” party took four weeks to be arrived at – and with no serious thinking being given on how to address the spiralling disaster in the Middle East and growing public anger. 

Still, Davey’s big brains may yet turn things around – they’ve a new madcap plan to appeal to the “yoof” vote by rebranding the party the Dem Libs…

Dominic Cummings has gone the way of all misfits who can’t find a place in an established political party – and established one of his own.

While it’s perhaps hardly surprising he should have developed a taste for power after his time in No 10 – he has been portrayed at the Covid inquiry as acting as if he was the prime minister – it still speaks to his arrogance that he thinks he can now go it alone.

He has set up a not-for-profit entity called People’s Action, listed alongside Vote Leave on his register of businesses at Companies House. No detail yet on what it will get up to, but one can imagine world domination might be one objective. It is based at a service address in Durham, and, poignantly, only one man is so far listed as being involved with it – one D. Cummings.

Demonstrating the same contempt for the Covid inquiry that he had for parliament, Boris Johnson saw to it his friends in the media trailed what it was he wanted to say. The Times even obligingly ran a front-page headline over the weekend saying: “Johnson – My Covid decisions saved lives.”

Johnson may find it easy to get his way with right wing newspaper owners, but I hear he’s finding it harder to dictate to his wife, Carrie, when it comes to decorating their £3.8m moated mansion in Oxfordshire.

“I visited it recently and a lot of it had been done in the same expensive but tasteless manner that we saw with the flat they had above 11 Downing Street,” I am told. “When one of my fellow guests euphemistically said it all seemed very bold, Boris raised his eyes to the heavens as if to say it wasn’t his doing.”

Johnson loyalist Nadine Dorries certainly gave her social media followers a vision of interior design hell in a recent photo taken from the mansion: the background was a blur of pale green, orange and yellow with a mural of what appeared to be a woman who looked not unlike the former prime minister but was not a known daughter.

Is there a right wing news organisation that doesn’t have a star name embroiled in a sex scandal? Mandrake hears of another one about to break, involving a columnist who has had two office affairs, a further fling with a trans person and a predictably incandescent wife. Watch this space.

Charlotte Owen may have regaled her fellow peers with talk in her maiden speech of the “journey” she had made to the Lords – the University of York to Boris Johnson’s office – but now she has arrived she is making the most of it.

“I haven’t seen her making any contributions to the debates in the chamber, but I have seen a great deal of her in the Pugin Room knocking down bottles of champagne with groups of loud young men,” a fellow Tory member from a different era tells me. “Basically, she seems to think of it as little more than a central London club she can use for socialising.”

In WhatsApp messages made public last week at the Covid inquiry, Matt Hancock, as health secretary, assured Dominic Cummings that full pandemic contingency plans were in place – but then claimed under cross-examination they had not been up to scratch. This is presumably why Cummings, in June 2021, said no plans had been in place, an assertion that, as I reported at the time, mystified staff at Porton Down, the home of the MoD’s top-secret Defence Science and Technology Laboratory.

“That is the whole reason we have Porton Down, where they’ve long recognised that a pandemic is the no 1 threat on the National Risk Register,” my exasperated informant retorted at the time. “It so happens the whole idea for furloughing staff was thought up there… after the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2002.

“After that, they war-gamed potential pandemics and shared their ideas with Europe, Singapore, the Gulf states etc. Ironically, some of them put Porton Down’s ideas into practice and looked back at us mystified, not understanding why we weren’t doing what we’d advised. It’s precisely because they saw a pandemic as inevitable that Public Health England was relocated to Porton Down.”

Theories abound about why the plans were never used: it may well be that they simply got buried under a suitcase of wine in No 10, or that by the time Boris Johnson and co took an interest in them there was little that was still salvageable, so they denied they existed at all.

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