Choosing between Edward Davey and Layla Moran

Well, here we are again.

I've reported on my vote in previous Lib Dem leadership elections in 2006, 2007, 2015 and 2019. I found it difficult to care as much this time round. The Lib Dems' catastrophic performance in last December's election and subsequent cratering in the polls perhaps make this the least important choice of the century. On the other hand, who knows? Perhaps the new leader will be able to generate a revival if the right choice is made.

I have not met either candidate, though I vaguely know Layla Moran's father from Brussels circles. I voted against Ed Davey last time, for what seemed to me good reasons, but it was clearly the wrong choice, as is obvious from the party's painful post-mortem on the election result and from the information I've gleaned from my (few) Lib Dem insider sources. So I'm being a bit careful with my own gut reactions this time.

In normal times I am strongly impressed by the endorsements each candidate is able to gain from fellow MPs, who work with them most closely. However the split is 5 for Davey and 3 for Moran, hardly an overwhelming majority especially when two of Davey's five are his immediate neighbours in London. On the other hand, I have to say that I have heard of precisely none of Moran's non-MP endorsers, whereas Davey's list includes Richard Kemp, Sarah Ludford, several former MEPs who I know (13 of the 16 of the 2019-20 class), and (though I have never met her) Floella Benjamin. (PS – I see on Twitter that Duncan Brack has endorsed Layla Moran, which I do take seriously, but it's not on her website.)

So I watched today's hustings for Lib Dem members outside the UK, chaired by my friend Hannah, with a genuinely open mind, with the impression beforehand that Moran is more discursive and Davey more wonkish. There is not a lot to choose between the two candidates; they are closely politically aligned. Their style is very different. To my surprise, I did not find that Moran had a decisive edge on charisma, and she notably over-ran her time allowance several times. She does come over as a teacher, as she proclaims herself to be, which is both good and bad; Davey more of the standard politician though with some added depth, citing personal experience of implementing policy rather than experience from outside the Westminster bubble as Moran did.

And I have made up my mind and cast my vote for Ed Davey. He said two things that caught my imagination; Layla Moran said two things that put me off her. These were:

  • Ed Davey will use the House of Lords to give representation to UK citizens abroad. A slightly wacky idea, I thought at first; surely the Lib Dems want to replace the House of Lords with an elected chamber? But a moment's reflection reminded me that actually this is a policy I personally disagree with, and even if I agreed with it there is no harm in exploiting the existing system in order to fill gaps in representation.
  • Ed Davey's personal story of having been a carer for close relatives with difficult health situations obviously spoke to me. He did not go on about it; he mentioned it once and let us draw our own conclusions.
  • Layla Moran said that she is in favour of a universal basic income. I know a lot of people love this idea; I don't, for reasons laid out here with more expertise than I can muster.
  • Very minor, but not insignificant: Layla Moran called Donald Trump "deranged". He is, of course, but the serious leader of a serious British political party cannot say so.

Whoever wins has a serious challenge ahead of them. I can’t be the only person who is wondering if I will still be a paid-up party member next year. As a citizen of Belgium who does not expect to ever vote in another UK election, my views don’t matter that much, but I suspect my emotions are not untypical. We’ll find out soon enough if others go the same way.

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