Voices: For Ed Davey and the Lib Dems, the good times have never seemed so good

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey at the London Art Bar in central London, after securing a record number of seats (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey at the London Art Bar in central London, after securing a record number of seats (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

After an eventful election campaign, a raucous rendition of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, surrounded by the party faithful, felt like a fitting finale for Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats.

His feet have barely touched the ground over the past few weeks and he has been giving interviews in teacups, riding rollercoasters and zumba dancing wherever his Yellowhammer battle bus has taken him. It was a bold strategy, one he was initially mocked for, particularly when it emerged he had fallen off a paddleboard five times in order for the photographer to get the perfect shot.

Now though, it appears Sir Ed has had the last laugh.

The Lib Dems are returning to parliament with 71 seats, 10 more than the exit poll forecast them to win and 63 more than they had at the end of the last parliament. Not only this, but Sir Ed has claimed a few remarkable Tory scalps; among the biggest blows which his party inflicted on the Conservatives was in Cheltenham where Max Wilkinson defeated Alex Chalk, the justice secretary,

Education secretary Gillian Keegan lost in Chichester, Sussex, to Jess Brown-Fuller, while Science Secretary Michelle Donelan and Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer were also unseated by Lib Dem candidates.

Henley and Thame, Witney and Maidenhead - most recently Theresa May’s constutiency - are now also Liberal Democrat seats.

Davey will soon be at the head of the biggest parliamentary grouping since the days of David Lloyd George, likely exceeding the recent high points achieved by Paddy Ashdown, Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg. The party was almost dead after the coalition with David Cameron and the tuition fees fiasco a decade ago, and not that much more lively after Jo Swinson led it into the 2019 disaster.

Davey and his team deserve huge credit for rebuilding what was a bit of a wreck – a parallel mission to that of Starmer. Both men were obviously greatly assisted by Tory incompetence, but few thought the Tories would be where they are today when Boris Johnson won his favourite victory and utterly dominated the scene.

For Davey, it was all worth getting a bit wet for. Assisted by the representation of the people acts, which require fair media coverage at election times, he has fought a brilliant campaign, got his profile up and a few key messages across. If nothing else, he reminded people the Lib Dems exist, are a fine tactical option to get the Tories out in much of the southern half of the country – and that he’s a thoroughly decent man.

His personal video about his life as a carer was brave and moving, and he dealt as honestly as he could with his role in the subpostmasters scandal. You certainly can’t fault his physical bravery. He did, we also learned, once risk his life rescuing an injured woman off the tracks at Clapham Junction in London.

Thus fortified in the next parliament, with luck, he won’t have to do quite as much of the heavy political lifting himself. His deputy, Daisy Cooper, who we saw quite a lot of (especially in the TV debates), has become something of a star, as have Layla Moran, Munira Wilson and Sarah Olney. The party, and its predecessors, has only had one female leader and has always been a bit male dominated; the gender balance of its leading figures is much improved these days.

A larger party in parliament means more resources, more parliamentary committee chairs, more influence and a generally louder voice. A larger party in the country – councillors, devolved parliament members and MPs providing a focus for activism – will also help the party step up its revival.

Learning to target constituencies and play the first-past-the-post system has taken decades, but the party has at last begun to reap the rewards. If I were Davey, I’d shut up about PR for a bit and enjoy the ride. He deserves it.