Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve voted for Ed Davey to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats. At the start of the contest, even though undecided, my expectation was that I’d probably vote for Jo Swinson.
After all, Jo has the slightly higher profile of the two candidates. (Though not by much, if a recent YouGov poll is accurate). Regardless of who becomes leader their profile will rise. However, breaking through the noise of our opponents will always remain a challenge.
I scored the Nottingham hustings as a draw, but that felt like a surprise to me. Even Ed’s dreadful “Back in the game!” line, seemingly borrowed from Alan Partridge, wasn’t quite enough to put me off.
After Nottingham, I found myself warming more to Ed. The more I listened to both candidates, the more I believed that Ed had a better plan for building on our recent successes, especially post-Brexit (or post-article 50 revocation).
I also believe that Liberal Democrats are the best people to deliver Liberal Democrat policies. As Jonathan Calder puts it, we sometimes haven’t been tribal enough. Ed seemed clearer on this point than Jo. He still obviously wants to work co-operatively with others to end the Brexit madness and achieve our environmental aims. I think he’s smart enough to persuade the party to follow him into alliances where it makes sense, while remaining distinctive as Liberal Democrats.
It was the mini-hustings at the ALDC Kickstart weekend that finally swung my vote. I know the 250 people present were not representative of the way most people think about politics. We’re probably not even representative of the majority of party members.
But we were a group with a specific interest in local government and grassroots campaigning. Ed had recognised this. Right from his opening remarks, he successfully tailored the way he presented his message to the audience. Jo was much less good at doing the same thing. If I closed my eyes when Jo was talking, I felt I was back at the Nottingham hustings again. I never had that impression when Ed was speaking.
This difference in approach felt important to me, especially when there really isn’t that much to choose between two excellent candidates. To succeed in our ambitions at the next general election, different groups of people are going to have to understand our propositions in ways that make sense – to them.
As I said about the last leadership contest, it’s often not about what you say, but the way in which you say it.
Last Saturday, in the hot and sticky conference room at Yarnfield Park, Ed demonstrated to me that he understood this point best.