Spread the love


Hannah Miller,Political correspondent

Going, going, gone: Ed Davey takes a dip in Lake Windermere

The tone of the Liberal Democrats’ general campaign was pretty evident from the moment we first stepped on the bus.

Party poppers, crossword puzzles, and a mini bottle of Prosecco – all neatly packaged in an orange gift bag that said “Welcome Aboard”.

If Sir Ed Davey’s campaign continues as it has begun, it’s going to be quite a ride.

Many of the political parties have a “battle bus” – swathed in their logo, with a slogan branded on the side, carrying a pack of journalists (and often the party leader) from place to place.

The so-called “maiden voyage” for the Lib Dem bus started, forgive me, with a splash. Ed Davey paddle-boarding on Windermere in the Lake District to highlight his policies around illegal sewage dumping, in pictures that are among the most iconic of the campaign so far.

Of course he fell in deliberately (and no, he says he doesn’t feel ill as a result) but he also fielded questions about the taxation of pensioners while balancing on the board – a feat few politicians would dare even to try.

PA Media Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey riding a bike during a visit to Knighton, PowysPA Media

The next day was comparatively low-key – Sir Ed hurtling downhill on a bike towards a crowd of 30 or so activists in Knighton, Powys.

Thursday would be “something good”, we’d been promised, as we travelled towards Frome in Somerset.

Even sitting on the bus I had no idea we were heading for a “slip n slide” until about half an hour before we got there. Families who’d turned up for some half-term fun were also caught unaware, as rows of cameras lined up to capture the Lib Dem leader plummeting down the waterslide, laughing all the way.

But by now the scepticism had begun – with Sir Ed facing a string of questions about whether all this clowning around really amounts to serious politics.

So why is he doing it?

Getty Images Sir Ed Davey and Anna Sabine, parliamentary candidate for Frome and East Somerset, ride the Ultimate Slip 'n' Slide at Eastcote Farm during an election campaign visit in BeckingtonGetty Images

His answer, that politicians can take people’s issues seriously without needing to take themselves too seriously, makes sense for a leader who isn’t claiming to have a realistic chance of being the country’s next prime minister.

When his predecessor as Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson tried that bold strategy at the 2019 general election it spectacularly backfired.

In terms of number of seats won, the party came fourth behind the SNP.

This time the Lib Dems are much more targeted in their approach – prioritising areas where they came second to the Conservatives in 2019, defining themselves in opposition to the government.

They want to win in places like Cheadle and Cheltenham, Wimbledon and Winchester. And to do that, they have to get attention.

But that’s a challenge for the party, as it tries to rebuild following its electoral struggles of the past decade.

How much airtime each party gets during the election period is worked out by taking into account a combination of previous electoral success, and current polling.

To get coverage they need support, and to get support they need coverage – the vicious circle that afflicts all but the two main parties in Westminster.

The rules that guide how the BBC reports reflect the dominance of the Conservatives and Labour, and say both the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party should receive “significant” coverage.

But current polling places the Lib Dems in around the same position as the insurgent Reform UK party, making the battle for airwaves and clicks even tougher.

The Lib Dems hope that if you see their man doing something wacky on social media or your TV, you might take the time to find out a bit more about what he stands for – with policy announcements this week on dentists and mental health, farming and crime.

General election 2024 banner

It is hard from the bus to get a sense of whether that strategy is working. Reading this, you’ll probably know better than me.

The campaigns don’t stop anywhere for very long, and a quick chat with a passer-by caught up in the spectacle doesn’t give much insight into what people at home are seeing and thinking. I wonder whether we’ll still be talking about these moments by the time the country head to the polls.

From the Lib Dems, you can bet there will be plenty more moments like the stunts of this week to come. And for now at least Sir Ed seems to be having a pretty good time.

He’ll be hoping that continues when the results roll in.



Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *